One of the objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is to make India an open defection free (ODF) country. But it is easier said than done given the enormous challenges being faced by policy planners, civic officials and the voluntary sector working towards this aim. For example, a majority of the 2,400-plus families in Kovalam, a village panchayat spread over nine hamlets and located 24 km from Chennai on the scenic ECR highway, don’t have a toilet in their homes and they are used to defecating either on marshlands or open fields.
But this is changing with RC Chennai ECR, RID 3232, adopting the village and setting up 32 toilets. During their preliminary study, the club members found that across the 4 sq km-large village, there are just over 800 toilets for a population of over 8,000 including 4,000 women.
“So our members came together to plan and execute this project in this village,” says Ravi Kandasamy, Project Chairman.
Membership Director Rafiq Sait, Club President Anjan Rangarajan and Secretary Ajit Nair discussed features such as the ODF objectives, providing sanitation facilities, drinking water, improving green cover, delivering healthcare and offering vocational skills to the jobless youth at Kovalam.
When the project took off in the latter half of 2017, “the task of setting up functional toilets seemed huge as even public urinals were in disuse and most of the families can’t afford the sanitation facility. Also, the mindset to maintain and use toilets in a proper way was non existent,” says Kandasamy.
The club augments its resources for building toilets through fundraisers. Each toilet costs ₹32,000 — while the club’s contribution is ₹20,000, the balance is a grant from the Central government under the Swachh Bharat scheme.
A family should be below poverty line, have a clear title deed over the property and its breadwinner should have an Aadhaar card to become eligible for the Rotary toilet here. “We have roped in a team of local youth skilled in construction and they also help us in building a database for expanding our project,” says Nair.
A detailed survey is being undertaken to understand the existing conditions and basic facilities that are needed on a priority basis. “We aim to complete at least 100 toilets by December,” he says.
Despite having six ponds and a lake, besides eight overhead tanks (OHTs) with capacities ranging from 50,000 to one lakh litres, the villagers don’t have access to safe drinking water. “This village has street taps installed by the panchayat, but they run dry as the OHTs are in a state of disuse with no one pumping water into these storage tanks,” says V Lalitha, a 65-year-old villager.
Her family of four, with two children, is the recipient of the first model toilet built by the club outside their thatched house. “Rotary has changed our life for good with a toilet, but we have to fetch at least 12 pots of water daily from a common well in the morning for our daily chores. We have requested them to lay a pipeline for regular water supply at our house and in the toilet,”
Kandasamy adds that the revenue records also point out that there are nearly 30 hand pumps and few common wells across the village, but most of them are neglected and in dire straits. “For effective implementation, we are forming core groups consisting of local youth who will help in maintaining the facilities for the community.” The Rotarians will make regular visits to ensure that sanitation units are put to optimum use and are in good condition.
More funding is expected by joining hands with other clubs and filing a global grant application with TRF, he says. A reverse osmosis plant is being considered for providing drinking water for the villagers.
The Anns of the club are training the women of the village to make handbags and artificial jewellery. “We are now mulling over setting up an evening clinic with a service-minded doctor offering consultations and free medicines.”
An Interact club is planned at St Joseph’s HS School, a 200-year-old institution started by a Portuguese missionary in Kovalam. The children will be taught good values and practices dear to Rotary which will percolate down to their family members, he adds.