Girish Agarwak, a 45-year-old Indo-Canadian scaled the heights of Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money to build clean toilets in Indian schools. In a campaign that he named ‘Summit for Dignity’, he climbed Africa’s highest mountain on February 29 and raised Rs 40 lakhs for the sake of children’s dignity. “Imagine going to school and having to find a place outside, in the street, to go to the bathroom,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “Imagine being an adolescent girl in that situation. There is no privacy and no dignity. And it’s enough to stop many girls from attending school.” Perturbed by the idea of young children being forced to defecate in public, he set out on his mission.
In one of our earlier articles titled, Pictures For Perspective: Around The World In 20 Women’s Toilets, we highlighted the issue of lack of adequate sanitation facilities as per the data collected by a group called ‘My Toilet’. The data revealed that 600 million people in India do not have access to toilets, which leaves women and children particularly vulnerable. Apart from the embarrassment of having to relieve themselves in public, they are often subjected to the fear of being harassed. The lack of facilities often results in absenteeism especially among adolescent girls during their menstruation days. About 45 per cent of the schools do not provide adequate facilities either.
Even though the Clean School guidelines state that there should be one toilet for every 40 students, many schools with more than 250 students, have just one toilet, with no gender segregation. Repeated usage leaves the toilets soiled, leaving children exposed to infections and diseases that could be easily prevented if they had clean toilets. This could result in students dropping out of schools, thereby lowering their chances at a better future. For instance, 200 girls dropped out of a Jamshedpur school due to the lack of adequate sanitation facilities– the school and its hostel had just five toilets for its 220 hostel dwellers.
His commitment to the cause helped him brave the 5,900 metres of rough terrain, and steep paths. In order to complete this dream, he set himself of a tight schedule to train himself. “I am not at all a morning person and I work late into the night. So the first challenge was to get up early every day to train. My wife, Shruti, helped me with my diet. My friends used to take me for runs in the freezing Canadian mornings.”
He tied up with Aga Khan Development Network, which has facilitated building of toilets in various countries. His target is to raise roughly Rs 1.67 crores with which he plans to ‘build 100,000 household toilets, 528 school toilet blocks and 26 community toilet complexes’.
You can follow the progress of his project on his Facebook page.