He has been instrumental in constructing 621 individual toilets, benefitting over 4,000 people across three villages in Thane district of Maharashtra, including one in an anganwadi in Sogaon village.
“It is not about just building toilets; it is more important to get people to use them,” says Atul Bhide, member of RC Thane Hills, RID 3142, who has also been featured in Aditya Birla Capital’s calendar and diary. The Department of Post acknowledged his sanitation project, ‘Right to Go’ by issuing a special cover and cancellation in 2014.
As president-elect in 2012, Bhide zeroed in on a signature project — building toilets. Between Dec 2012 and Mar 2013, along with a team of Rotarians, he visited 100 villages “which were stinking, as people were defaecating in the open. None of the houses had toilets.”
So he started talking toilets to villagers and after great difficulty convinced them. By the time he took over as club president, he had constructed 10 toilets, and during his tenure all the 250 families in Sogaon got their toilets. “From the beginning he and his team made sure that the people used the toilets and that these were not meant to be store rooms. “We made sure that they understood that we were there because they wanted us. Nothing can be achieved through compulsion. The drive has to come from within. And in each of the three villages, we were able to achieve that. Now toilets are part of their home and are used for the purpose they are meant for.”
It is not about just building toilets; it is more important to get people to use them.
The club has a database of all the 622 toilets, and the villagers are involved in the maintenance.
To develop a sense of ownership, each family pitched in ₹ 3,000 for the toilet and pitched in with labour too.
He soon roped in Indian-born-American Dr Renuka Desai to get her club, RC Cherry Hill, RID 7640, New Jersey, involved as an international partner. They have contributed over $157,000, with a chunk being her personal contribution. Soon two more clubs from the US came on board.
After a short break, Bhide is back on the job and has applied for another global grant to construct 170 toilets in the village Aghai. He acknowledges Club President Nilesh Puranik, a civil engineer, who has been an “immense support right from the start. He visits or sends his staff to every site where we are constructing toilets to ensure quality and standard.”
He is now also working on providing handwash stations, promoting the ‘Tippy Tap’, which he came across in the Satara, Panchgani and Wai region when he was heading the CSR department of an MNC. It is a simple contraption designed with four bamboo sticks and a plastic container and can be assembled by the beneficiaries.