Indo-Canadian Girish Agarwal scaled the heights of Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money to build clean toilets in Indian schools.
To say that Girish Agarwal scaled mountains to raise money for sanitation of Indian schools would not be an expression of exaggeration. The 45-year-old Indo-Canadian businessman did exactly that: he climbed Africa’s highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro, on February 29, and raised Rs 40 lakhs for the sake of children’s dignity.
In a campaign that he calls “Summit for Dignity”, he aims to raise money to build toilets for Indian schools.
He focuses on funding toilets in schools specifically, disturbed by the thought of children having to defecate in the open. “Imagine going to school and having to find a place outside, in the street, to go to the bathroom,” he says 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.”
A 2011 census report found that about 600 million people do not have access to clean toilets. In Indian schools, the sanitation situation is horrendous. About 45% schools do not have adequate facilities. Clean School guidelines (a set of rules issued after the Prime Minister pushed for building more toilets in schools in 2014 through the Swachh Bharat campaign) state that there should be one toilet for every 40 students.
Some schools, with more than 250 students, have just one toilet, with no gender segregation. The toilets get soiled after repeated usage and don’t get cleaned enough. Children are exposed to infections and diseases that could be easily prevented if they had clean toilets. School dropout rates are directly related to its lack of facilities. For instance, 200 girls dropped out of a Jamshedpur school, citing lack of proper toilets as the reason – the school and its hostel had just five toilets for its 220 hostel dwellers.
Agarwal had dreamt of climbing the celebrated mountain for around 16 years. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, however, is also a risky feat, at 5900 metres high. With a rough terrain and steep paths, his family and friends were cautious about letting him take up the challenge. “But they relented when they knew how committed I was,” he said to Times of India.
To take up this enormous challenge, Agarwal adopted a rigorous schedule to keep himself physically fit.
“I am not at all a morning person and I work late into the night. So the first challenge was to get up early everyday to train. My wife, Shruti, helped me with my diet. My friends used to take me for runs in the freezing Canadian mornings.”
Agarwal, who was listed in Calgary’s Top 40 under 40, and Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants, also received an Investors Group’s Gold Medalist award.
Today, he lives in Canada and has four toilets in his house. But, his life was not always luxurious like it is now. He was born in Mumbai and lived in Delhi.
“Even though, our parents did their best, we lived in poverty. We received various levels of support from our neighbours, relatives, and friends. I am grateful to my parents for not compromising on my education, despite everything,” he said.
He has tied up with Aga Khan Development Network, which has facilitated building of toilets in various countries. Agarwal’s target is to raise roughly Rs 1.67 crores. He says on his fundraiser page that he plans to “build 100,000 household toilets, 528 school toilet blocks and 26 community toilet complexes.”