Leaders of Tomorrow
A young leader accomplished development work in Sarai village in Mewat, Haryana, India. The Village Health and Sanitation Committee (VHSC) had failed at this development work for many years. Rahul resides in Sarai and studies at Rajkiya Varishta Madhyamik Vidyalaya, in the village of Mohammadpur Aher, 2 km away from Sarai. He is the fourth child of his parents; his father is employed in the water supply department and his mother is a homemaker. Rahul’s daily walk to the school was long and unpleasant due to the mud, puddles and filth along the road. The conditions were perfect for mosquitoes to breed in, and were largely responsible for high rates of dengue, malaria and other waterborne diseases in this area.
Rahul always dreamed of seeing his village surroundings clean, and wanted to contribute in whatever small way he could. As he grew up, he saw the road conditions in front of his house worsen. He often had to help smaller classmates up that had fallen into the slush outside the school gate. This unsafe and unsanitary environment deterred children from attending school, as many would fall ill after falling in the slush. Rahul frequently discussed with his father how they could improve the water problems. He learned a lot about water conservation from him.
In 2011, the Sehgal Foundation carried out infrastructural improvements in Sarai School under a partnership project with KMG Foundation. The village-level workers held meetings with the School Management Committees (SMC) and VHSC to work towards enhancing education and health conditions. Road drainage was raised as a critical issue for improving health conditions for students. One VHSC member said, “It is difficult to pass by, and many times people slip and fall. In rains the situation gets worse. We used mud and stones to fill the craters temporarily, but wastewater kept spilling on the road and made it messy.” The SMC passed the road improvements on to the VHSC, but the VHSC expressed its inability to make improvements due to lack of funds.
The students are the most disadvantaged due to the unsanitary road conditions surrounding the school. “There are a lot of problems we face, such as the dirty surroundings, incidences of kids falling, and the risk of dengue. Children fall ill very often and this affects their attendance at school. We have been trying to fix this situation,” said the woman village head.
Rahul attended one of the VHSC meetings. He had previously learned from his father that the construction of soak pits could solve the issue of wastewater on the roads. Rahul took the lead and began constructing soak pits in his house. Rahul’s mother questioned him and discouraged his efforts. “I don’t think anything good can come out of that soak pit being constructed,” she said. But Rahul’s father was thrilled to see his 17 year-old taking such initiative.
Soak pits provide a way to safely dispose of wastewater at the household or community level. They can treat and recharge wastewater into the ground and improve hygiene conditions. Soak pits use locally available material such as pebbles and boulders and can be built for less than Rs. 500 ($10) each.
The two soak pits at Rahul’s house made a noticeable change as wastewater no longer accumulated. Rahul showed the benefits to his neighbor and spread the word. Others began to follow Rahul’s lead and began constructing their own soak pits. The lane in Sarai now has 14 soak pits, three of which belong to individual households. The clean school surroundings have resulted in increased enrollment and improved student attendance.
Girirajo, a 65 year-old lady who got married a Sarai villager at the age of 15 said, “I had never seen the lane so clean in at least 30 years.” Rahul singlehandedly inspired villagers to do what institutions could not. We salute Rahul’s indomitable spirit for seeking change for the public good.
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