Komal Hadala is another young woman who has led a “revolution”. Our spotlights are typically about young people who take on big issues that have impacted them very personally – in their own places of residence, study, and work. Kamal is another heroine who saw something that needed to be done and took it on with amazing results. May each of our spotlights inspire you to urge your students on to have similar impact in their own communities and lives!

Komal married and moved to a village in India where, it became instantly apparent, there was no indoor plumbing. At 4a.m., her mother-in-law shook her awake. In this article from The Guardian, Kamal is quoted as saying: “It was the time when they went outdoors to relieve themselves in the fields before men started appearing. I couldn’t believe it. It was total darkness outside. And it had been raining.” It took a walk of over a kilometer in the pitch black on uneven and wet ground for her to find a spot to relieve herself. She realized that her house, and all the other houses in the village, had no bathrooms, had not been designed with them in mind, and that the women of the village had not thought to change what had been a long-standing custom.

Komal Hadala at her home in Nithora village, near Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: Amrit Dhillon

Can you change the way of thinking of an entire community, women and men alike? Athri, her grandmother-in-law, put it this way:  “We never knew anything else. This is how it has always been. We had no choice but to go out in the fields. It was hell – getting up so early, the freezing cold in the winters, the fog, the fear that some man will stumble across you. The worst was – oh my god – when I used to have a bad stomach.”  Only 22, Komal got the support of her mother-in-law, her husband’s grandmother, and her husband’s sister to build a toilet and not just for her own home but for all women in the village. Using funds from the Clean India campaign provided by the government, it took a year for the village to be “open defecation-free”.

It is noteworthy as we teach our students about the change process that every element of living is attached to many other elements. In this case, the villagers did not connect the idea of toilets with other issues they were also facing. Komal said: “I had to keep meeting families to din it into them that going outside led to diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and other illnesses, They didn’t think there was any link between illness and going outdoors but I learned all this at school. Luckily school children were receptive and they took the message home.”

Change was not limited to the home. School too was impacted and the boys and girls there were also provided with clean separate toilets, a running water supply and several places for handwashing. As the grandmother said: “It took a young girl to get us to raise our standards. But now everyone is involved and we plan to keep it up.” May it be so for our students as well!!