Project Dignity: Improving Sanitation and Empowering Women in India's Sundarban Region,
Published September 2016.
 
Project Dignity Updates:
 
May 1, 2018: Rotary District 6380 Newsletter Article
 
I was honored and humbled to serve as “Toilet Warrior” on March 31 and April 1 for Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North (RCAAN) and D6380, for a final site tour, inspecting and assessing the impact of two Rotary Foundation sponsored sanitation-focused Global Grants which are led by RCAAN as international sponsor since early 2016. The two host groups were D3291 Foundation (representing 39 Calcutta area Rotary clubs), and the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM).
 
The goals of both sanitation projects are to end open defecation and break the cycle of generational poverty by empowering rural women with safe, private sanitation facilities so that they can educate their children better, learn sustainable vocations to augment their income, and thereby regained their dignity.
 
Calcutta (population ~15 million) is the home of Poet Rabindranath Tagore, India’s Nobel Prize winner in Literature, and is also known as City of Joy where Mother Teresa (beatified in 2016 as St. Teresa of Calcutta) served the poor and rescued the sick and orphans off the streets. (Two past D6380 delegations to Calcutta were led by PDG Terry Youlton for Polio Eradication efforts in the late 1990s, and it is also the site of a 3H Grant co-funded by D6380 for a diabetes research hospital).
 
RCAAN and RCCM began Project Dignity in 2011-12 as a Simplified District Grant project for $18,000, and the successful implementation of 120 in-home toilets and lessons learned were used by RCAAN to organize these two new Rotary Foundation Global Grant projects, which have since engaged the financial support of Rotary Clubs of Ann Arbor North, Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor West, Chelsea, Ferndale, Milan, Novi, Saline and Ypsilanti Rotary Clubs.
 
I am pleased to report that both Global Grant projects have far exceeded their original targets of rural in-home toilets awarded to below-poverty-line villagers subsisting in the Sundarbans - a lush mangrove forest with high biodiversity located in the Ganges River Delta outside Kolkata. This achievement was possible due to frugal money management by our dedicated Rotary partners and project chairs in India, who used bulk procurement of raw materials and supplies, solicited free labor and services from local toilet awardees or providers, and leveraged with Exide India Battery Corporation which augmented Global Grant funds - all of these allowed RCCM, our Project Dignity partner Club, to add 80 more toilets over the original goal of 320 toilets. Each toilet costs approximately $210/unit and comprises of 2 composting septic tanks to store solid waste while microbial action prepares it in 3-4 months to be used as fertilizer for the farms.
 
(1) Global Grant 1527157 ($96k) with District 3291 Foundation and ~30 Calcutta area Clubs has completed 526 toilets (original goal was 500). I was graciously hosted for the review by D3291 Foundation Chair Rotn Jayanta Chatterji on March 31, 2018. See photo. 
 
(2) Global Grant 1526428 ($84k + investment by Exide Battery) on Project Dignity undertaken with the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM), and 7 co-sponsor Michigan Rotary Clubs has now completed 400 toilets (as of April 1) with the NGO Sri Ramakrishna Ashram Nimpith (SRAN)...The project will conclude with 420 toilets by end of May 2018. Photos show toilets are named for each sponsor Club from D6380. 
 
On April 1 early morning, I accompanied the ever energetic Rotn Rakesh Sahni, my Project Co-Chair of RCCM and 6 of his club members - Radhika Sahni, Ruby and Matoo Sikri, Samir Prasad, Joydeep Sanyal, and Sumi Agrawal Past-President of Inner Wheel Club of Calcutta-Midtown and our chief instigator for Project Dignity in 2009 - we toured for over five hours in ~105F steamy temperatures across a 2 km area in the lush biodiversity of the Sundarbans. We toured an area occupied by both Muslim and Hindu communities co-existing harmoniously, led by the Ramkrishna Ashram’s monks and two sanitation contractors, both, on foot and by vehicle over narrow, often precarious sandy embankments to inaugurate 20 new rural toilets. These toilets will empower rural woman-run households with health, hygiene and safety to enable them to take up sustainable vocations and thus, raise their living standards.
 
In conclusion, I am grateful to Rotn Ashish Sarkar of RC Ann Arbor for undertaking a site visit with RCCM members to the Sundarbans on February 5, 2018, when the previous batch of 20 toilets was inaugurated. Five RCAAN members also toured with me to inaugurate the first batch of 40 toilets completed in March 2016: John Copeland, Matt Copeland, Bryan Schindel, Laura VanSteenis and Tamra Ward. The following photos don’t do sufficient justice to portraying the harsh realities of rural life in the Sundarbans, which is highly vulnerable to climate change, or to the hardships and challenges of bringing sanitation supplies and training/followup to these secluded communities. The dedication of our local Rotary and NGO partners is commendable!
 
RCAAN’s third sanitation focused  Global Grant 1635112 ($36,000) was awarded in March 2018, and will begin in May 2018 in Bungamati, Nepal with partners RC Chandragiri (Nepal), RC Singapore and Nepal Consul General’s Office in Singapore - the goal is to improve school sanitation and community hygiene with new toilets for 4 girls schools which are being rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 2015. A site tour is planned in October 2018. Stay tuned! 
 
Written by Manish Mehta
 
 
 
 
 
District Newsletter May 2018
 
 
 
 
April 2018: 1070 Toilets Compete
 
Successful Site Tour on April 1 - Rotary Sanitation Grants’ Goals Far Exceeded - 1,170 Toilets Completed in Sundarbans (E. India)!
I was humbled to serve as a “toilet inspector” on March 31 and April 1, assessing progress with Kolkata Rotarians on two Rotary Foundation sponsored sanitation Global Grants led by Rotary Club of Ann Arbor North (RCAAN).
 
On April 1 early morning, I accompanied the ever-energetic Rotn Rakesh Sahni of RCCM and 5 of his club members - Radhika Sahni, Ruby and Matoo Sikri, Samir Prasad, Joydeep Chatterji, Probir Chatterji of Mississauga Ontario, and Sumi Agrawal of Inner Wheel Club of Calcutta-Midtown (our instigator since 2009!) - We hiked in ~105F steamy temperatures across a 2 km area in the lush greenery of the Sundarbans where these newest toilets are constructed.
We toured the area occupied by both Muslim and Hindu families together with the Ramkrishna Ashram’s monks and two sanitation contractors on foot and by vehicle over sandy, often precarious embankments for about 5 hours to inaugurate 20 new toilets. Our cars could only go so far!
 
These toilets will empower rural woman-run households with health, hygiene and safety to enable them to take up sustainable vocations and thus, raise their living standards.
 
The photos and videos I have uploaded don’t do sufficient justice to portraying the harsh realities of rural life in the Sundarbans, or can ever recognize the hardships and challenges our Rotary/Inner Wheel/Ramkrishna partners have experienced in bringing in-home sanitation to these secluded communities.

Look for photos acknowledging Rotary Clubs of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor West, Chelsea, Milan, Novi, Saline and Ypsilanti Rotary Clubs.

Both grant projects have far exceeded their original targets of rural in-home toilets awarded to villagers in the Sundarbans and areas surrounding Kolkata, thanks to frugal money management by our Rotary partners, bulk procurement of building supplies, and leverage with Exide Battery Corp.

 

The status of Global Grants is summarized below:

(1) Global Grant 1527157 ($96k) with District 3291 Foundation and ~30 Calcutta area Clubs has completed 526 toilets (original goal was 500). My meeting was held with Rotn Jayanta Chatterji on 3/31/18.

(2) Global Grant 1526428 ($84k + investment by Exide Battery) on Project Dignity undertaken with the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM), and 7 co-sponsor Michigan Rotary Clubs has now completed 400 toilets with the NGO Sri Ramakrishna Ashram Nimpith (SRAN)...

Add to these figures 120 toilets completed in 2011-12 under the leadership or late Rotn Paresh Rajda.

The total count now exceeds 1170 toilets!

 

January 2018: 400 Toilets Complete
 
At our luncheon on Thursday January 18, 2018, Manish Mehta presented a update of Project Dignity.
 
Manish was glad that our Club’s Project Dignity partners in India have completed construction and handover of almost 400 rural Toilets which brings our total so far since 2012 to 1020 units, which means that at least a 1000 women are able to sustain their families with good health, and raise their living standards with new job-training, education and literacy initiatives.
 
Project Dignity 
 
Photos from January 14, 2018 celebration of 400 toilets .
 
Congratulations to our Project Dignity partners Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM) and NGO partner Sri Ramakrishna Ashram Nimpith (SRAN) for exceeding the goal of 320 Toilets on Global Grant #1526428! You have stretched project resources and leveraged to award 400 total new rural in-home Toilets that will help empower the families of many women mud-hut dwellers in the ecologically threatened Sundarbans area into sustainable vocations while promoting health, safety and literacy.
 
Our count so far...1020 Toilets!
 
400 (in 2016-18) + 120 (in 2011-12) + 500 (in 2016-18 on Global Grant with 39 Kolkata Clubs)
 
Written by Manish Mehta
 
Project Dignity
 
Project Dignity
 
Project Dignity
 
Project Dignity 
 
Project Dignity
 
Project Dignity
 
November, 2017:  320 Toilets Complete
 
“Manish is delighted to share some wonderful news from Rotarian Rakesh Sahni, his dedicated counterpart & Project Chair from the Rotary Club of Calcutta-Midtown (RCCM) on The Rotary Foundation sponsored Project Dignity Global Grant #1526428 which was awarded in 2015 to RCAAN and RCCM. Seven D6380 co-Sponsor Rotary clubs also contributed to this project aimed at ending open defecation in the region - Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor West, Chelsea, Ferndale, Milan, Novi, Saline and Ypsilanti. 
 
Collectively, the clubs contributed $42,000 in seed funds, which were then leveraged 2:1 with The Rotary Foundation, to total $84,000.
 
The Project Dignity Global Grant involved close collaboration with the Sri Ramakrishna Ashram (a reputed interfaith non-profit group) in Nimpith, India, to install 320 in-home toilets for economically needy women-run households in the Sundarbans area of Eastern India. Each toilet unit costs $210, and is constructed for the benefit of women and girls, and the Grant also provides suitable vocational training in order to help them sustain their families from some of the worst ills and vulnerabilities they face. The hazards of open defecation range from constant diarrhea and dehydration of children, to wild animal attacks, to rape and to reptile or insect bites, while women lack the privacy and walk long distances from their homes to relieve themselves. Project Dignity assures the safety and well-being of families, freeing up women to learn and pursue vocations that will help raise their living standards.
 
Chair Rotn Rakesh Sahni in Kolkata informed that not only has the original target of 320 in-home Toilets in the Sundarbans been achieved as of November 2017, but by the frugal and sensible money management practices of RC Calcutta-Midtown and Ramakrishna Ashram in India, the project has sufficient funds left and plans to install additional 80 composting Toilets by February 2018. 
 
Manish hopes to lead a second site visit by RCAAN members and District 6380 counterparts to Kolkata and the Sundarbans at the conclusion of the Global Grant project for a celebratory program. Six members of RCAAN toured the area for the Project Dignity kick-off held in February 2016.”
 
Written by Manish Mehta, November 16, 2017.