Belbari, Morang, Nepal -  When Ratna Khawas, now aged 74, first moved in with her husband in his village in eastern Nepal, she was shocked to find that the community did not have any toilets.

“I had to go to the open field for defecation, as there were no toilets in the whole community,” she recalled. “I tried to convince my educated husband to build a toilet in his house, but he refused to go against his family’s tradition.”

Despite being educated, she was originally not allowed to work by her husband’s family, but  eventually became a public health professional, raising awareness among local women on reproductive health, sanitation and hygiene.

She built her own toilet after moving with her four children to a small hut on land belonging to her husband in 1989 and he then joined her. Her nephews also built toilets along with other community members.

She managed to convince the mothers that lack of proper hygiene and sanitation could cost their children’s lives. In the beginning, she says she was ridiculed for being an outsider talking about faeces and urine. She began a campaign to build toilets and install tube-wells and played a crucial role in the Open Defecation Free Campaign (ODF) in 2019.

For those who could not afford to build toilets, Ratna sought support from the Women Development Forum, an NGO, and the ward office. The Forum was the Global Sanitation Fund/ UN-Habitat’s implementing partner during the ODF campaign in 2019.

Now only a handful of households are left without toilets and all of them have tube-wells.

Ratna collected around USD 2.50 from each of the 62 households to buy pipes and install a 2500 litre water tank to provide tap water in each household. The materials will be installed after the lockdown is lifted.

“This will helped the locals wash hands with soap during this coronavirus pandemic,” she proudly said.

“My only wish now is to build seven more toilets for the remaining households. I will consider this campaign a success once the senior citizens and middle-aged men make it a habit to use toilets regularly. So, I still make a round in the villages and a few people still get a scolding from me.”