By Atul Bhide, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Thane Hills, India
Less than 80 kilometers (49.6 miles) from the urban centers of Mumbai and Thane, India, lies the village of Sogav in Shahapur Taluka. Here, like in many villages in India, women and girls face the daily indignity of having to walk miles in the early hours to find a safe and discreet place to relieve themselves.
A simple bodily need that many of us take for granted exposes these women and children to hygiene and safety risks every day. It is a difficult situation under normal circumstances, but when these women experience any kind of sickness or health concern, their experience becomes appalling.
My Rotary club decided to do something to help, perhaps a baby step, but a step nevertheless. On 8 June, we dedicated our “Right to Go” project, which included the construction of 210 toilet blocks, at a cost of 18,000 Indian Rupees per toilet block (about US$300) for an equal number of homes. We selected homes based on income level (those with the lowest income) and number of female members in the household. We were blessed to be supported on our project by the Rotary Club of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA, and a grant from The Rotary Foundation.
Dr. Renuka Desai, who was born in Mumbai and is now a member of the Cherry Hill club, visited Sogav village and volunteered her support to our project, and we are extremely grateful for her help.
We are remaining involved in the welfare of the village through the following programs. A Rotary Community Corps is serving as a catalyst between the villagers and Rotary. Members of our club will take part in ongoing hygiene awareness presentations to instruct villagers on the dangers of waterborne diseases and the importance of preventative health care. Local officials will conduct a hygiene edit and check sanitation levels periodically. And we are entering classrooms with our Win the Kids Over program to make sure they understand the importance of good hygiene.
The toilet blocks are environmental friendly Green Toilets. Each toilet is equipped with two soak-pits with special honey comb designed brick work inside. They are odor-free and do not require any drainage. The village has a water supply thanks to the Shai river next to their village. Households maintain their toilet block.
It touched all of our hearts when at the dedication, Kiran Khandagale, one of the villagers, said “the greatest ornament for a woman is her dignity, I thank Rotary for helping us to protect it.”
As icing on the cake, the honorable Postmaster General for the Mumbai region, Department of Post, released a special postal cancellation paying tribute to our “Right to Go” project. We are thankful to the Rotary Foundation for the global grant that made this possible.
Give to The Rotary Foundation to support projects like these. Every gift, from every Rotarian, makes a world of difference.