Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

The confidence of a young sanitation activist: story of Sita

Sita is just twenty years old. She has faced discrimination throughout her life because the village she comes from is the settlement of so-called low caste indigenous people. She told me her inspirational story on the first day of our pre-SACOSAN conference civil society gathering and I would like to share it with you.

Ever since her early school days, Sita has been interested in social issues. After completing high school, she started to teach in adult literacy classes. She used to teach not only how to read and write but five minutes of every class included the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene. Her teachers encouraged her to become a member of the water supply and sanitation project in her village Dagaada in Baglung. These days she is a member of Saatdule Water Supply and Sanitation Project as well as Secretary of the Water and Sanitation Users Committee.

She told me how unsanitary her village was in the past when people had a very low level of awareness of health and hygiene. And people were resistant to change too, Sita said that when she started participating in the water and sanitation meetings, people used to challenge her with remarks like 'what is the use of going to such meetings?', 'what change can you make from such meetings?'

Happily, the water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes have brought about some remarkable changes in her village. As a result, 99 households in her village have constructed toilets and have declared their commitment to making their environment open defecation free. This has brought about a triggering effect and more and more houses are constructing toilets in their houses.

Earlier, Sita’s neighbours used to say things like 'why do we need toilet now? We’ve been doing it in the open for generations'. But now things have changed and people have started washing their hands at critical times. The frequency of water-related diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid has also decreased and slowly, people are realizing the importance of sanitation and hygiene.

With confidence, Sita tells me that she believes soon her entire village will be declared open defecation free soon.

And her wish for this coming week? Her hopes for the SACOSAN?

"I want to ask the government to allocate enough budget and bring special programmes of sanitation in villages like mine so that soon we can make the entire country of Nepal open defaecation free."

This is the first year that people taking part in SACOSAN will benefit from from hearing real life experiences like Sita's thanks to the work that the civil society coalition of WaterAid, WSSCC and FANSA have done in the lead up to this year's SACOSAN.

Hopefully, this will also be the first year that they finally listen and make good on their promises to improve the state of sanitation in South Asia.

Budget should not be a constratint

Thank you for sharing an interesting common story from Mountains of Nepal. My observation here is that, like most of our governments are not consistent and following up such achievements, similar is the situation with CSO and international agencies working in these countries. The project report is submitted mean no follow-up and further coordination, except if by chance a donor wants to visit, then the stage is prepared for that. Budget from government never remained a constraint, but its judicious use surely. And here not many supporting / advocating agencies helped the communities to achieve, what they wanted to..! The project, programme or cooperation projects mostly failed.

How Sita will learn from SACOSAN, when she doesn’t understand ENGLISH! Will people explain her in NEPALI?

Agencies should first correct themselves on various processes and institutional fronts, then only one can blame others, and in particular Government.

It's a common failure!

Agree, follow up on commitments is key

Thanks very much for your comments. Agree that following up on commitments is key. Although we've come a long way in how civil society has been represented and engaged in the SACOSAN process over the years, it's not the objective. The objective is real change. This is what we have called for this year and we'll be keeping up the pressure beyond the conference in a wider monitoring and evaluation process. We'll also be monitoring our own progress against our commitments, see our declaration for more info:

Sita and all the other community leaders had interpreters with them throughout who were helping to explain the process and helping them to communicate their stories. Tomorrow we'll have a grassroots session in the official SACOSAN and there again there will be translators - the only sessions not in English as far as I'm aware, time to put the shoe on the other foot!!

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