Published on Sept. 8, 2016 By Manish Mehta
"Project Dignity": Improving Sanitation and Empowering Women in India's Sundarban Region
Project Dignity is the brainchild of Inner Wheel Club of Calcutta-Midtown and Sri Ramakrishna Ashram Nimpith to economically uplift rural women in the Indian Sundarbans (means “Beautiful forest” in Bengali). It is a river delta area designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 due to its exceptional biodiversity of halophytic mangrove trees, lush sandbars and rivers which shelter endangered Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins as well as many reptile species. 

Project Dignity awards in-home toilets to the neediest rural women and families of landless laborers so as to help raise their aspirations for a better, healthier life, through sustainable vocational training.

By ending open defecation and segregating human waste from water-centric ecosystems, it teaches the importance of hygiene and safe sanitation practices. Better health enables higher literacy levels, leading to improved living standards and economic prosperity.

Each toilet costs ~$210 (in 2015-17), and is constructed of locally sourced durable materials, and used by families of up to 10 members, with an assigned woman householder responsible for its maintenance and training in hygiene. Once their families regain health (reduced incidence of diarrhea) and children begin schooling regularly in SRAN's schools, these women are in time, offered free vocational training and employment opportunities to help raise their standard of living.


The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North (RCAAN, in the US has adopted Water and Sanitation as its signature thrust area since 2010. Since 2011, RCAAN has partnered under facilitation of Inner Wheel Club of Calcutta-Midtown, with the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM) and Sri Ramakrishna Ashram Nimpith (SRAN), a leading interfaith organization dedicated to rural development in India.

In 2015, the Rotary International Foundation awarded two Global Grants totaling ~$200,000 to address the dual challenges of sanitation and women’s empowerment in the Sundarbans region of East India. A total of 940 new toilets will be completed by 2017, that will transform the lives of at least 10,000 rural dwellers and improve sustainability.
In March 2016, six (6) RCAAN members traveled (at personal expense) to Kolkata. We were graciously hosted by RCCM members and families, Rotary District 3291 Foundation leaders, and members of other area Rotary clubs. The tour included site visits, fellowship and Rotary events.

This video is a record of some of the life-changing experiences we had, while building bridges of international understanding and collaboration....thanks to the Rotary International Foundation.