Ashish and Ruta Kalawar left their well-paying jobs in England and returned to India to help empower the rural citizens of the country. Help them make their adopted village open-defecation free!
Fifteen years ago, Ashish Kalawar, a young electronics engineer posted in Bokaro, was waiting at the station for a train to his hometown of Pune. A little boy approached him and offered to polish his shoes. Ashish immediately told the kid that at his age he should be going to school and not working. The boy replied that he was working to support his education and used the money he earned from polishing shoes to pay for school. Impressed with his spirit and determination, Ashish let him do his work and paid him double the price for the shoeshine. The boy was delighted and could not stop himself from jumping with joy.
“It cost me just an extra Rs.10 but I could see how much happiness this little act of kindness gave him. I was content with my life but the satisfaction I got from looking at his face was priceless. This incident has stayed in my heart ever since.”
Ashish’s career was growing fast. He now felt it was time for him to get married and settle down. When he met Ruta, another electronics engineer, his happiness was complete.
The couple married and, in 2009, moved to the United Kingdom in search of better paying jobs. As their income grew, the two thought they should apply for citizenship to that country.
“We had everything, a nice car, a beautiful house in the UK and a great future to look forward to. But, somehow, we were not at peace,” says Ashish.
Soon, the couple started visiting the Skanda Vale temple located in South Wales frequently. They would volunteer their time at the temple on weekends and find solace in meditation and helping others. They also participated in a 7 km charity walk to raise funds for the Skanda Vale hospice.
“While volunteering at this temple I kept remembering the little boy back in Bokaro who had polished my shoes. I wanted to do something for him and other people in my motherland too,” he adds.
Ashish and Ruta finally found their mission in life when they visited India for a short period in 2012. One of their relatives, Amol Sainwar, had started an NGO called Shivprabha Charitable Trust and was planning to adopt a remote village in Maharashtra.
The village, Lonwadi in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, was located on a hill. It had no electricity, no water system and no roads. Ashish and Ruta visited this village along with other team members of the Shivprabha Charitable Trust.
The villagers had to go down the hill every day to fetch water and so, the first thing they needed was a solar-operated water pump to draw water to the top of the hill. Another thing that Ashish and Ruta noticed was that many villagers in Lonwadi were victims of addiction to alcohol or tobacco. They wanted to do something about both these issues but it was time for them to return to England.
They did the best they could under the circumstances by donating some money for the water system and left the country again. Meanwhile, Shivprabha Charitable Trust continued to work for the betterment of the village.
“My friend Unmesh Kulkarni and I raised 90% of the funds required for the water project. After its implementation, the number of students in the school increased as well because the children were freed from water-fetching duties. This incident really inspired and motivated me to move to India and work for rural empowerment.”
In January 2014, Ashish and Ruta left their lucrative jobs and bright professional careers behind to pack their bags and return to the motherland.
“This was the first time I did not have a job in hand while leaving the previous one. But I was not afraid at all. Something made me feel that this was right. Moreover, Ruta helped me believe that if we were doing something good there was nothing to worry about,” says Ashish.
Back in Lonwadi, Ashish and Ruta started counselling the villagers suffering from addictions and holding meditation sessions for them. According to Ashish, within six months, around 80% of the villagers were addiction-free.
“I never asked the villagers to stop consuming alcohol or tobacco. I asked them to just join us for meditation. The self realisation that occurs when you meditate compels you to stay away from everything negative,” says Ruta.
Today Lonwadi has good roads, electricity, a water system, and a digital school too – thanks to the efforts of the Shivprabha Charitable Trust and people like Ashish and Ruta.
Now, this village is just one step away from being an ideal village – it still needs to become open-defecation free. Ashish and Ruta’s counselling sessions have helped the villagers realise the importance of using toilets. All households have applied for subsidies to build toilets at home but have not heard back from the government as yet. Therefore, Shivprabha and The Better India have come together to find ways of gifting toilets to all the households in Lonwadi. We appeal to our readers to donate generously and help the villagers’ dream of living in an open-defecation free ideal village become a reality.
This World Toilet Day, The Better India is supporting Lonwadi, a village in Maharashtra, to become open defecation free in just one month! The residents want to build a toilet in each home and secure a healthy, hygienic and dignified life for themselves. Please lend your support to the residents in their quest and help them get access to toilets, sanitation facilities and a healthy future like all of us.
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