Pune: Crippled by physical disability, gram sevak Sunil Kishanrao Koknare never let it deter his enthusiasm and determination to ensure safe sanitation measures in his community. A resident and gram sevak of Degloor, a small town in Nanded district, Koknare got involved in the nation-wide Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBM). He helped them understand the importance of adopting safe sanitation practices.
An accident in 1997 paralysed him for life but could not deter him from doing his work. When the SBM campaign was launched in the Degloor block, Koknare did not think twice before participating in awareness activities carried out by district officials.
The issue of sanitation was dear to him as he was aware of the problems of not having a toilet at home as he had no toilet in his house where he lived with his wife and a school going son before the mission started. During the initial days, Koknare would motivate people from his place as he was unable to walk. As a gram sevak of the village, he organised meetings and talked about health risks that open defecation posed. After the villagers supported his mission, he gained confidence and spread his wings to other villages.
Initially, villagers were reluctant about building a toilet in the house due to financial problems or due to religious beliefs. Then he realised that changing people’s habit was crucial and for that, all he needed was to mobilise and sensitise them. He travelled to different villages and met people personally to make them aware about open defecation. He gave money to villagers who showed willingness to construct toilet blocks.
He was the only person from the area to have conducted meetings in five gram panchayats from Bijalwadi, Gavandgaon, Nagral, Markhel, Tadkhel and Mendankallur.
“It was CEO Ashok Shingare who recognised his contribution of construction of over 2,500 toilets, for spreading awareness and financially helping poor villagers to construct the toilet. And that’s how he came into limelight,” said villagers.
Government officials credit the Nanded district campaign’s success to Koknare’s efforts. “Within two to three months, we could construct 1,30,000 toilets across the district,” they mentioned. Koknare is now an inspiration to many as we want him to take the mission forward. His actions bore fruit as people starting building toilets and using them. His unwavering grit and determination led to a large scale behavioural change,” the officials said.
Equipped with the latest knowledge in sewage management after completing his Diploma in Agriculture, Koknare now has focused on soil filtration so that used water from toilets will be collected in a hole dug in the backyard of the home. This process will not allow the sewage water to contaminate the rivers or the place where it is discharged.