My Sewa International Experience on Building Toilets in India
By Ayan Mishra, St. John's High School, Shrewsbury
In developed urban world, we take going to school for-granted. Going to school is a critical part of a child’s mental and physical development. It is just a part of our lives. However, nearly half the world’s schools lack clean drinking water, toilets, and handwashing facilities, putting millions of children at risk of missing out or worse catching diseases.
In India, many households don’t have proper toilet facilities. Girls routinely drop out of school upon puberty due to lack of sanitation facilities in their schools. In India, every year, diarrhea, and other water borne diseases kill over 7.7 lakhs kids due to unhygienic sanitary conditions.
This problem became evident to me upon my recent trip to India earlier in 2022. As my mother is a volunteer with Sewa International USA, we ended up visiting a village called Jharsa in Haryana in the northern part of India. We visited some government girls’ schools during that time. To my surprise, I was surprised to see the Jharsa middle school for girls of 500 students did not have a functioning toilet for the girls. The existing toilet was locked and only to be used by school staff. It never occurred to me that there would be schools somewhere on planet earth that would not have such basic services. While my mom was having conversations with the school kids, I overheard some girls say they are missing out on school because of this issue. It was quite a scene to watch how there were so many girls who wanted to attend school and learn and grow. But due to lack of facilities and functioning toilets, they were forced to drop out of coming to school. The visual sights made me realize how privileged we are here in America.
Upon my return, I did some research online and found that about 30 million school children across India do not have access to sanitation facilities in schools. This was a real issue and something needed to be done here. It impacted me to the point that I told my parents that I would like to do something about it. If I was able to do something to raise awareness about building toilets in rural India, I would not just be helping 1000s of kids going to these schools. I would also be helping raise awareness in kids of my generation to do something more about this cause. I set a goal for myself by pledging to build 6 toilets by raising awareness through a facebook campaign.
Talking to my mother, the first thing I decided to do was to start a Facebook Fundraiser to start collecting donations for the project. I shared it out with various people in my community, school, friends and family members all over. I started talking about the topic with friends in social gathering and after school as well. I printed QR codes on banners and pasted it out in locations like school notice boards, grocery schools and the Hindu temple.
At first, it was a lot of hard work and I found people were empathetic to the cause but didn’t do much beyond a little bit. So, the collections on the Facebook fundraiser were low. I had to do something else. I decided to create a presentation and reached out to some of my mom’s friends, where I thought I would get invited to present in. To my amazement, I had a few different opportunities to present to different companies like Slalom Consulting, Acronis, Hitachi etc. and the donations started coming in.
I was able to raise $2,200 dollars over the course of 60 days. I donated all this money to Sewa International’s Sanitation, Hygiene and Empowerment of the girl child (SHE) program that helped me in reaching my goal of building toilets and ultimately helping girls continue with their education. I wanted to do something for the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India which is where my dad is from. The Sewa team members in India, told me about this opportunity in rural area around Fatehpur, UP where they had recently gotten approvals to build the toilets. We were able to complete the construction of building six toilets in Government Primary School, Bhagaonpur, with the help of Sewa International’s team in India. They even sent me a few pictures of beaming kids with smiling faces that would benefit from this little project of mine.
India is a massive country and there is so much that we can do to build toilets across the country. Instead of being stuck by the enormity of the problem, I decided to do something to solve the problem. I was able to hit my goal of making a difference in the lives of all the kids going to school for years to come. This was in part possible by the various donors who came forward to help me and Sewa International for providing me with an opportunity and a platform to make a difference. More importantly, I also wanted to set an example for other kids of my age on how they can make a difference in the society we all live in and share. It’s all a matter of focus and determination.
About the Author
Ayan Mishra is 11 years old and attend’s Saint John’s Highschool in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He is an avid reader, part of the YMCA swim team and plays tennis for fun. He believes in helping the community. He has been volunteering with his parents for Sewa International USA, for the past two years. He is a student contributor to India Society of Worcester’s monthly newsletter. During his free time, Ayan volunteers at various charities around Boston area i.e. soup kitchens, community cleanup services, Cradles to Crayons to help and serve the community.