The Rotarians of RC Salt Lake Metropolitan Kolkata stumbled upon many families in their Rotary Community Corps areas of Amta and Chakdah in rural West Bengal. They lacked basic sanitation and were too poor to construct toilets. Women had to get up before sunrise and go to the fields to complete their morning rituals; this robbed them of sleep and exposed them to the risk of molestation and insect bites.
Our club decided to address this issue through construction of 40 toilets with support from RC Fostoria, D 6900, Ohio and TRF, under a matching grants scheme. The project, which cost Rs 8.4 lakh, was carried out in four phases.
About 20 toilets were set up at Bhategori village in Amta Block of Howrah under the first phase of Project Dignity. The beneficiaries were enlisted by local clubs and our RCC. Beside each toilet unit, saplings of two fruit-bearing trees were planted to provide green cover.
In the next phase 20 toilets were constructed in Chakdah Nadia. During the course of the project we came across many heart-wrenching stories of struggle. A young widow, Rekha Biswas, does menial labour throughout the day to earn a square meal. Her only son, aged 15, dropped out of school after class VII as she could not afford his education and was sent to Bangalore to earn for the family. The mother, with tears in her eyes, shared that she had not heard the voice of her child since he had left the village months ago. She thanked the Rotarians for gifting her dignity by giving her a toilet.
In the third phase rain water harvesting tanks were set up in seven sites at Bhategori village to provide the residents the much needed source of water. Earlier, the salt waters of the Sunderbans used to enter their fields ending the prospect of cultivating anything in the near future. About 2,500 people benefit from this project and now the villagers are able to cultivate double crops instead of a single crop. It provides an alternate vocation of fishing to the 350 families here.
On completion of the project and understanding the need for more toilets, we built 23 more around Chakdah, with due clearance from TRF. There is still a requirement for 100 more toilets which we will provide at a later stage.
DG Bob Hogan and spouse Carol from our partner District, D 6900, were present when we handed over the toilets to the villagers of Chakdah. We realised the impact of our project when a young woman in the village whisked us to her home to offer us lunch and showed off how clean and odour-free her surroundings were now.
(The author is past president of RC Salt Lake Metropolitan Kolkata, RI District 3291.)