• RCUI built toilets for girls at Laxmi Narain Junior High School in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, India

A few years back I watched an Indian Bollywood movie called “Toilet – Ek Prem Katha”. This movie was inspired by a true story in which a woman left her husband two days after their wedding because there was no toilet in her husband’s house. And she refused to go back until he built a toilet in their home. This may seem bizarre to some of us, but it is indeed a real problem in some rural areas in India. Based on an article from the main actor of this film, about half of India’s population, that is around 564 million people, defecate in the open because of a lack of toilets. Subsequently, it creates sanitary problems, pollution in drinking water and the spreading of disease. Moreover, it is a severe issue for women. Why is that? Women can only do this under the cover of darkness, but this same darkness, also increases the chances of women been leered at, having their privacy invaded, or even the risk of assault and rape. In the film, these women went by group, once a day, in the early morning before sunrise. Sometimes they had to hold their bladders for up to 13 hours… (Kumar, 2017)

In this time of Covid-19, where frequent handwashing has become a ritual rather than a sometimes-forgotten habit, it is appalling to imagine these vital needs not being met.

Why is this basic need, a toilet, a luxury in these rural areas in India? Part of the reason could be a lack of money to build the toilets, but it is also because people have the mindset that a toilet is a degrading to their home, which should be a clean place for washing, cooking and worship. (Kumar, 2017)

Besides the lack of toilets in some rural households, we also discovered that most public schools in India do not have toilets, or even handwashing facilities. In this time of Covid-19, where frequent handwashing has become a ritual rather than a sometimes-forgotten habit, it is appalling to imagine these vital needs not being met. A lack of facilities and the privacy needed to cope with menstruation means that many girls simply stop attending school once they hit puberty. The installation of a simple toilet block with hand basins removes this barrier to education, enabling girls to continue attending school and complete their education.

 I found it a project close to my heart, a project where we could make a difference to those girls, who can now go to school and receive an education without worrying about not being able to go to the toilet.

Needless to say, when our club’s community service committee proposed to cooperate with Rotary Club of Rohilkhand Bareilly in India to build toilets for girls at the school, we were welcomed with open arms and greatly supported by this local Indian club.  I found it a project close to my heart, a project where we could make a difference to those girls, who can now go to school and receive an education without worrying about not being able to go to the toilet.

We needed €2,500 in contributions for this project. Besides some donations, our club’s community service committee, together with several members,  organized a few fundraising events in 2019 and we collected €2,550 for this project.

Gin and Wine tasting events: the events were hosted by our club members where members and their family and friends could also join. We raised more than €800 from these events.

Amsterdam Light Festival Boat trip: More than 60 tickets were sold and we rented two boats for a canal tour of the Amsterdam Light Festival. We raised more than €1,100 at this event.

Mexican cooking workshop: This event was hosted by our club members and we raised around €400.

Eventually, with our contribution and under the supervision of our partner club in India, in early 2020, the toilets and handwashing station at Laxmi Narain Junior High School were built.

Personally, as a member of our club, I am very proud of this project and what we have achieved. A Rotary Club is more than a social club, it is a club with a group of people who share the same goal of helping people in need and giving what we can to make the world a better place.

References

Kumar, A. (2017, November 13). Akshay Kumar: Toilet isn’t a dirty word – my latest film made me love the loo. Opgehaald van The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/nov/13/akshay-kumar-toilet-isnt-a-dirty-word-my-latest-film-made-me-love-the-loo

Blog: Access to toilets should be a basic right, not a luxury