- Jayalakshmi has been chosen for an educational tour to NASA
- NGO Gramalaya reached out to Jayalakshmi to offer aid for travel to NASA
- Jayalakshmi requested Gramalaya to help her build toilets in her village
New Delhi: At a young age of 16 years, Jayalakshmi wears many hats. She is a student of Class 12, sole bread-earner of her family, a tuition teacher for Class 8 and 9 students and a social worker. The resident of Thiruvalluvar Nagar village of Adhanakottai panchayat in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, Jayalakshmi has helped in eradicating the practice of open defecation from her village by raising awareness and motivating her fellow villagers to build individual household toilets. Taking support from a Tiruchirapalli based voluntary organisation ‘Gramalaya’ that has been working towards sanitation and rural development since 1987, Jayalakshmi has managed to build 125 individual household toilets covering all families in her village.
It all started when Jayalakshmi won an online competition conducted by a private organisation and got an opportunity to visit NASA (National Aeronautics And Space Administration) facility in the USA. She started receiving support from various people and organisations who offered to fund her visit to NASA. Gramalaya was one of the organisations that came forwards to help her realise her dream of visiting NASA. However, Jayalakshi requested S. Damodaran, Founder of Gramalaya to channelise the support offered towards building individual household toilets in her village. While speaking to NDTV, Jayalakshmi, whose trip to NASA has been postponed to the next year due to the pandemic, said,
For years, people in my village including myself and my family had to walk about two kilometres towards a forest for defecation. Of a total of 130 families in our hamlet, 125 did not have toilets. Girls and women especially faced many problems as we had to walk past a wine shop each time, we had to relieve ourselves in the open. Boys and men loiter around the wine shop all the time which used to make us very uncomfortable because of which many of us used to control ourselves to avoid going in the open. This used to cause stomach ache and headaches also.
Jayalakshmi added that she was already aware about Gramalaya and their hygiene programmes and so she took the opportunity to request the NGO to help construct toilets. She said that initially the villagers were hesitant and so she had to go door-to-door to talk to them and explain to them the benefit of using a toilet. Appreciating the efforts of Jayalakshmi, Mr. Damodaran said,
We got to know from the media that a poor girl was facing financial crunch to visit the USA. So, we approached her. She requested us to visit the village and lend our experience and funds in building toilets. When we reached her village, we found the village to be extremely backward with individual toilets in five households out of a total of 130 households. As Jayalakshmi told us that she has already got adequate funds for the NASA visit, we started the project of providing villagers with one good 4feetX8feet toilet per household.
Mr. Damodaran further said that some households had built toilet under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) but a lot of those were not functional or have been damaged by the cyclone.
According to Mr. Damodaran, the households have contributed about Rs. 5,000 worth of material and labour for each toilet and the rest of the fund has been aided by the NGO in association with Bank of America.
The people of Jayalakshmi’s village recognise her contribution in providing them with toilets. Deivanai, a 40-year-old women said that the toilets built by Gramalaya also has enough space for bathing. She said that the community is very happy and thankful to the young social worker. She said,
We are a five-member family including my three teenagers who are using this toilet. I am glad that now we don’t have to go to the forest area for defecation. We will maintain and use our household toilet.
Another resident Chinnathal, a 47-year-old woman thanked Jayalakshmi for her efforts and the NGO for their support. She highlighted that toilets are a basic need of the people and this simple thing alone can prove to be transformative in the future in terms of health and hygiene of the people in the village.
Jayalakshmi lives with her mother who is undergoing treatment for mental illness and her 13-year-old brother. The family of three receives some support from her uncle. Jayalakshmi who aspires to become a civil servant, currently does odd jobs, mostly engaged in processing and selling cashew. While signing off she said,
My father had abandoned us when I was little. My mother is suffering from a mental illness. In this struggle, I find inspiration in my teachers. They encourage me to keep going and strive for a better future. They also helped me get a passport. I want to study Law and join civil service in future. I want to change the situation of my village and many other villages like mine.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.