We all hear the big announcements like “#Amma Adopts 101 Villages Across India” or “Amma Contributes Rs. 100-crore to Namami Ganga Campaign”. But we have little knowledge of what happens next to make these promises a reality.
Here is the story of two Amma Ammachi Labs researchers, Prema and Br. Ajay, sent to start the toilet construction classes in a very poor Bihari village. The Musahar community is a caste who live on the margin of society. Considered the lowest of the Dalit groups, their name translates in English as “rat eaters”. In Ratanpur, they live in single room mud huts and work mostly as day laborers. I came two days early to photograph and observe the people of Ratanpur. After a 48 hour train ride from Kerala, Prema and Ajay arrived eager to start immediately. The plan was to hold a village meeting, show some Embracing the World videos, explain who Amma is, and why we would be concerned with their village. Then Prema would describe our toilet program and recruit the first batch of women to learn toilet construction. Sounds simple enough, right.
Here is how it actually happened:
Noon on Sunday was chosen as the best meeting time and we began planning. First, a venue. The only possible site was this 12 m x 12 m community area with a flat roof supported by cement columns, open on all four sides.
Ratanpur has no electricity. We searched for a portable generator, but this ancient monster is all we could find. A tractor and wagon had to be hired to haul it from the next village. It took eight men just to load the generator up into the wagon.
Next we set out to rent a projector and test it. The only one we could find was 40 km away and did not arrive until Sunday morning. So much for testing.
A crowd of women and children pushed into the venue as we set up. Using all of the tarps we could find, we blocked the sunny side of the building. The generator started, the projector lit up and you could see absolutely nothing. Prema turned to me and asked “What can we do, Scotti?” I replied “Unless Amma sends a huge black cloud to darken the sky, there is nothing more we can do. We have a crowd. We have sound. We will just have to make the best of it.”
Out of nowhere, the young men of the Musahar community came to our rescue with a huge fabric banner, big enough to wrap the other three sides of the structure. It instantly became hot as a sauna, but dark enough to show the videos. Truely Amma’s Grace.
More and more people packed into the hall. Nothing like this had ever happened in Ratanpur.
We soon had a list of 60 volunteers.
I thought this Musahar community was too poor and backward to accept toilets and would need a long period of Health Education before we could ever begin work. Fortunately, Amma is in charge. She knows best the needs and abilities of all her children. The people of Ratanpur are eager to improve their lives and now, with the help of AmmachiLabs, they are on a fast track to real change. Photos by Scotti Rice
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