Art of Living helps villages win Nirmal Gram Puraskar

New Delhi, Delhi, India
4th May 2007

NEW DELHI: The Art of Living’s 5H Program has helped eight villages from Maharashtra make the cut for this year’s Nirmal Gram Puraskar, which was presented by President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam on Friday. Thanks to the Art of Living’s initiative to build toilets and educate the villagers on personal hygiene, the villages could meet the strict parameters for the award which include access to household toilets, absence of open defecation and maintenance of public cleanliness.

Every house in the village of Kapsi, Dhumalwadi, Sokasan, Dangirewadi, Khutbav, Waki, Nidhal and Jadhavwadi uses a personal toilet built by the Art of Living in collaboration with the villagers. Under its 5H Program, the Art of Living has built over 500 toilets in Maharashtra, of which 100 are in the Kapsi district. 5H stands for Health, Homes, Hygiene, Harmony in Diversity and Human Values.

The award represents a major shift in the mindset of the villagers towards personal hygiene. “It is easy to construct a toilet, but it is difficult to motivate the villagers to utilise them due to the old habit of answering nature’s call in the open,” says Dr Madhav Pol, Satara district seva co-ordinator of the Art of Living. Art of Living volunteers, who started working in these villages in 2004 and educated the villagers about the disadvantages of the age-old method of defecating in the open. So far, over 3,575 sessions have been conducted to spread the importance of personal hygiene.

As an appreciation of the role played by the Art of Living, the Kapsi village panchayat requested Dr Pol to receive the award on its behalf.

“Toilets have led to a better and healthier lifestyle for the whole village, especially women,” says Dr Pol. Earlier the villagers would answer nature’s call in the open, leading to wide-scale breeding of mosquitoes and disease-carrying insects. In the absence of toilets at home, women were forced to endure punishing restraints and had to wait until dark to defecate. Apart from affecting the dignity, safety and sense of privacy, the absence of lavatories had a devastating effect on the health of the women with many suffering from gastroenteritis almost all the time.

“The toilet construction and other programmes of the Art of Living have brought people together to work for the betterment of the village,” adds Dr Pol. The Art of Living has been working in several villages in Maharashtra and in India. Its interventions have helped 151 villages in the Vidarbha region end the tragedy of farmer suicides. In Kapsi alone, several activities such as zero-budget farming, rainwater harvesting and smokeless chulas are being implemented bringing about revolutionary results. Thanks to 28 check dams constructed under the 5H Program, the water table of the drought-prone village has gone up so high that the village can withstand two years of no rainfall.

Of the 4,945 panchayats in India which received the award, 1,974 Panchayat Raj Institutes (PRIs) are from Maharashtra, making it the highest number from any state.