Seema Devi was married as a teenager. At this young age, she moved to her new husband’s village, away from her family.
One of the biggest differences in this new village in the Sheohar district of northern India was that she no longer had a toilet in her home.
Growing up with a toilet was something she took for granted, never thinking twice about it. In her new home, Seema had to go outside, practicing open defecation like the rest of her neighbors.
When Seema was pregnant with her first child, she went outside to relieve herself in the middle of the night. Unable to see in the dark, Seema tripped and fell. This night was a wake-up call for her. While Seema and her baby were unharmed, she resolved to finally get a bathroom in their home.
This turned out to be no easy task. "My repeated demands failed to convince my husband to get a toilet constructed in the house," Seema recounts. Taking matters into her own hands, Seema got a job at a local women’s empowerment organization. "The first thing I did with the money I earned was construct a toilet in the house," she says proudly.
Seema’s insistence on having a toilet constructed placed her in the minority in her community. This village with over 700 families had less than 100 toilets.
Soon, Seema discovered she wasn’t the only one interested in improving the health of her community.
One day, she attended a play hosted by Water For People. Using messages shared through street plays and group meetings, Water For People sought to educate the community about the dangers of open defecation and the importance of safe sanitation. This also included sharing information and resources around how to construct toilets, such as how to find reliable masons and how to estimate costs.
These messages about safe sanitation have been spreading across India ever since Prime Minister Modi launched a 5-year national campaign called the Swachh Bharat mission to promote cleanliness and hygiene and to eliminate open defecation.
Seema enjoyed these learning opportunities and was eager to become more involved. She became part of the local sanitation education programming as a motivator, someone who encouraged her fellow villagers to construct toilets.
"I accepted this responsibility primarily because my village is known for lagging behind in sanitation and I wanted to change that perception," she explains. "Besides, I believe if I keep my house clean, but my neighbors do not, that would still affect the health of my family. I want my neighbors to also maintain proper sanitation."
Taking all that she’s learned from Water For People, Seema now goes door-to-door talking about toilets and speaking to crowds at events. She shares her own experience and her passion for a healthy community. "There are some people who are reluctant and do not want to construct the toilet, I tell them that by constructing a toilet in the house they are benefiting their families, especially the women and children."
Seema’s determination is paying off. Looking beyond her yard to her neighbors’ homes are dozens of toilets in varying stages of construction. By improving the health and safety of the community, Seema knows toilets change everything.
By supporting Water For People, you’re empowering women like Seema to continue improving the health and safety of their communities through healthy sanitation practices.
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