These exemplary citizens have showed what ‘service before self’ really means. Here we feature some of the stories of the citizens who plunge deep into the country’s issues and dedicate their lives for the betterment of fellow citizens
Dr Jyoti Lamba
A university professor from Gujarat, Dr Jyoti Lamba visited a village and discovered that there was not a single toilet available, she didn’t just go home and lament. Instead, she built 6,000 toilets in 34 villages during next 4 years, often at her own expense.
“Since last three decades, I am a professor at one of the most prestigious University in the city. Teaching and interacting with students is something which has always made me happy and my life also used revolve around them, until Gandhi Padyatra happened to me in the year 2013. Our university had organised a Gandhi Padyatra where students and faculties visit villages and understand about their problems. During the visit to different villages, I realized that villagers don’t have toilets in the villages and women are the most affected. Women have to wait till evening, until it gets dark to go for loo and this really saddened me. Once we were back from the trip, our Vice Chancellor Dr Sudarshan Iyengar called and asked me to start a project of building toilets in the villages. This was a huge opportunity to serve my Nation and be a part of making my mother earth clean so I immediately agreed. In January, 2013, I started my journey of educating and encouraging villagers of Gujarat to build toilet in their homes. Villages were in a big mess and no one was ready to build toilets and as a woman it was tough for me to explain the male villagers about the benefits of having a toilet in their house.
It took me seven months to convince villagers to build toilets under the Government Program. It has been 4 years since I have been doing this work without taking a day off and so far, I have helped build 6000 toilets in 34 villages of Gujarat. I will continue to serve my nation this way.” She said.
O ur country doesn’t have a shortage of zealous men who dedicate their lives to provide basic amenities to their fellow men. S Damodaran, an NGO founder, was recently named India’s Toilet Titan at the Safaigiri awards. His NGO Gramalaya has already constructed 100,000 toilets and helped declare several slums open defecation free. Going by how critical factors are panning out, he is likely to achieve his goal of building 1 million toilets.
Gramalaya was instrumental in declaring Thandavampatti village in Tiruchirappalli District as India’s first open defecation (ODF) free village in 2003. Gramalaya has since been working tirelessly to eradicate the practice of open defecation by building toilets in rural areas. His Centre for Toilet Technology and Training has come up with smart, efficient and affordable toilets. He is able to reach this far because he has worked tirelessly with several governmental and donor agencies to build a sanitation ecosystem. He works with the National Institute of Water and Sanitation, Government of India’s sponsored CRSP, TSC and Nirmal Bharath Abhiyan programs as well.
Gramalaya started its urban intervention program in 2000 with financial assistance from WaterAid, UK and collaboration with Tiruchirappalli City Corporation. There were 7 community toilets built by Gramalaya with WaterAid grant fund apart from individual household latrines connected with UGDs in the 7 project slums. Gramalaya promoted more than 1,00,000 toilets with various donor organizations like WaterAid, Water.org, Unicef and Arghyam in Tamil Nadu. It also introduced the concept of microfinance for sanitation for the first time in India and successfully scaled up microfinance for toilet constructions through the Guardian MFI (Micro financial institution). Gramalaya introduced the concept of Community Managed Pay and Use toilet systems for the first time in India which was replicated in other parts of India by organizations such as Sulabh. It also designed the child friendly toilet (CFT) models for the use of slum children, school children in rural areas along with Anganwadi toilet models.
Maulana Mahmood A Madani
In sync with the countrywide sanitation campaign the maulvis and muftis in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab have decided not to solemnise marriage in a house where there is no toilet.
Maulana Mahmood A Madani, Secretary General of Jamiat Ulama-i- Hind said having a toilet has been made a mandatory condition for Muslim marriages in the three states and will soon be applied in all other states in the country.
“Maulvis and muftis in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana have decided that they will not solemnise the ‘nikah’ or Muslim marriage in a house where there are no toilets,” he said. Madani, who is also a former Rajya Sabha MP, stated this during the inauguration of Assam Conference on Sanitation (ASCOSAN) 2017 conducted in Khanapara. “ I feel that all religious leaders from all the religions throughout the country should decide that they will not conduct any rituals in houses where there are no toilets,” he said. Emphasising on cleanliness and sanitation, he asked people to use toilets and also to make not only Assam, but the country as a whole clean. “There are two types of cleaning - one is external and the other internal. Both are interconnected, we will only be able to achieve the internal cleaning if our body is clean,” he said.
Kavita gautam, a quiet 19- year old is a focused student. Her college is 25 kilometres away from her village (Purelalla village, block Rampur, district Jaunpur) and she travels by a bus every day to attend college. But this strenuous routine of going to college does not deter her from taking on the responsibilities of a peer educator. She became a peer educator in mid-2014, encouraged by the field facilitator and at the behest of her Adolescent Girls’ Group members. GARIMA meetings brought a sea change in her and in the girls of her group.
Though toilets had been a part of the agenda for the Gram Pradhan, other priorities took centrestage relegating toilets to a secondary place. Armed with the knowledge and information provided to her in the GARIMA trainings, and having honed her skills through various sessions of the Adolescent Girls’ Group, Kavita confidently and patiently reasoned with the Gram Pradhan about the importance of toilets for the villagers, especially girls and women, for their dignity and their health.
The Gram Pradhan, being a perceptive person, could see the point being made by Kavita and the other adolescent girls. It took a couple of months before a community toilet was made in the village, which could be used by families who do not have toilets.
The Gram Pradhan has also promised the girls that he would get more community toilets made, till the time every family has a toilet of its own. This has to a very large extent solved the problem of privacy for the girls. Slowly but surely, Kavita is effecting change in the village with her dedication, taking one step at a time. Her resolve is to continue to bring positive changes in future too.
Chief Executive Officer Pratibha Pal was instrumental in making the Narsinghpur district free of open defecation. Her dedication and humility make her an exemplary citizen who personifies the meaning of ‘service before self’.
The CEO’s ease of interaction with all types of people in the rural communities she serves has caught the attention of villagers from across the district as well as her colleagues who are keen to emulate her dedicated and down to earth approach. Despite Pratibha’s humbleness members of her team insist that she has played a pivotal role in the district achieving hours together with us on most days of the week,” said Prabhat Kanoje, district renewable energy officer who also volunteers as a district mobilisation officer for the open defecation free campaign. While this required the CEO and team working over and above their usual working hours Pratibha took it in her stride. “By using technology we were able to keep up with our daily tasks. Since most of the time we were in field, the monitoring of all district Panchayat work and service delivery improved dramatically. My personal schedule was affected somewhat, but then we had decided to do this within a timeframe and on priority,” she said.Pratiba though is keen to reiterate that the credit goes to her team, and the leadership of her district collector and seniors officials which enabled her to lead the district to achieve its open defecation free status. To sustain the momentum of an open defecation free environment and to advance the rights of children to survival in Narsinghpur district, then we must all embrace compelling WASH (Water, Sanitation and Health) behaviours that contribute to child survival and growth such as continuous toilet use, washing hands with soap, safe disposal of child’s excreta and use of safe drinking water at all times, said Pratibha.
Shayna, Shriya, Hitarth & Aashay
A group of boys and girls at the Galaxy School in Rajkot, Gujarat realised that, even within their close circle, they were uncomfortable discussing the topic of periods openly.
On probing this deep-seated issue, they stumbled across a report by AC Nielsen stating that a mere 12 % of Indian women use pads, while an overwhelming 88 % use unhygienic materials like ash, sand, and husk during their menstruation.
Digging deeper to understand why this is such an issue, the students spoke to 70 women in their community and discovered that many cannot afford to buy pads at all. Most use rags and are ashamed to dry the stained cloth out in the sun, so they end up reusing dirty rags.
Under the mentorship of Sakina Bharmal, the students designed a reusable cloth pad that can easily be made by women at home to target the prevalent issue of affordability. Through a donation rally at school, they were able to collect waste cloth and towels for the project. With the help of their art teacher, they made templates for the pads in three different sizes.
The students made a 5-step manual, in Gujarati and English, to teach women how to make these at home and sterilize them. They first taught the support staff in their school how to make these pads, and then accompanied them to the Bhaktinagar slum in the city – a community that they were brought into contact with via the social activist Taksh Mishra.
After a few such campaigns, the students realised that even the men needed information about the issue. So they encouraged the women to talk to their husbands and parents about menstruation. The students reached out further to more people in the nearby rural communities.
In the process, the students say they learned that change does not happen overnight. To get people to listen to their idea, they had to first build strong connections and garner their trust. The team comprised two girls and two boys – Shayna Shah, Shriya Mehta, Hitarth Raja, and Aashay Rughani.
The students also held an awareness campaign to encourage women to openly say, “Yes, I menstruate”.
More students are now conversing with a few manufacturers who can produce low-cost pads, says their mentor Sakina Bharmal. They have two objectives in mind. First, they want to empower the women from rural areas by training them to make and sell these pads. This will help these women become financially independent. Second, the students want to continue to break the social taboo and make these pads affordable.
Chandrakant Damodar Kulkarni
W hen 67-year-old Chandrakant Damodar Kulkarni wanted to contribute to a good cause, Prime Minister Narendra Modi objected.
In a way, what the retired drawing teacher wanted to do was to help the Prime Minister himself. After hearing Modi’s August 15 address to the nation, he wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that he wished to contribute Rs 5,000 every month towards the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan scheme. In fact, he even sent a few cheques.
For Kulkarni, who retired as a drawing teacher from the St. Joseph Boys’ High School in Khadki in February 2007, this was nothing new. Throughout his life, he has donated money to social causes. He has helped pilgrims, he has donated Rs 2,100 every month for a year to the Sassoon General Hospital in Pune and more. But the cheques he sent to the PMO returned. Officials at the PMO told him that the Prime Minister did not feel it good to accept a pensioner’s money. Kulkarni then informed the PMO that all his family members are independent, nobody is dependent upon him and insisted on donating money.
The PMO finally yielded and directed him to send money to the Swachh Bharat fund and not in the Prime Minister’s name. What Kulkarni did next was to prepare 52 cheques from September 2015. The figure 52 has a little story to it. Modi has 52 more months to complete his five-year term and that’s why Kulkarni decided to sign 52 leaves. And his total contribution added up to Rs 2.6 lakh.
During his Mann Ki Baat, PM Modi underlined the need for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and then praised Kulkarni, calling him a “real hero”. The PM met Kulkarni recently, who is also a VHP member, and personally thanked him and his family for his efforts. “I still can’t believe that I met Modiji,’’ said the dhoti-clad retired teacher, who taught at St Joseph School, Khadki. He added that it was just 10 months ago when he wrote to the PMO pledging a part of his pension towards the project.
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