From ‘Talking Pots’ To Low-Cost Water Filters, A Team Of College Students Is Transforming WB Villages

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Wading through a sea of syllabus, assignments and semesters, all the while battling a persistent perplexity about the future, it is never easy to be a youngster in college. However, a group of second-year students from the renowned St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata might challenge our established notion about present-day college goers, as they have chosen to prioritise the society over and above their personal aspirations.

Teaming up with Enactus, the non-profit community in educational institutions across the globe, these group of budding social entrepreneurs have devised first-of-its-kind initiatives to empower women, men and the helpless youth across villages in West Bengal. From clay pots that tell heartwarming stories to water filters that trickle happiness into arsenic-infested communities, Enactus St. Xavier’s College is bringing pathbreaking changes through Project Kalakriti and Project Shuddhi.

All about Project Kalakriti

“It endeavours to spread optimism, grace, dexterity and some thousand stories of perseverance in the disguise of intricately designed pots,” describes Unnati Narsaria from the Enactus team, about their Project Kalakriti, that revolves around the idea of ‘Talking Pots’. The idea came to the fore in 2016, as vibrantly hued plant pots were exhibited in the college premises as an innovative idea for a social venture. Over the years, the students amplified the idea to a larger scale to bring lesser privileged communities under its beneficiary ambit.

Flower bouquets had traditionally been perhaps the most popular form of gift. While their aesthetic appeal is indeed pleasant, one cannot simply overlook the huge amount of waste they generate, especially at a time of dire need of eco-friendly alternatives in every sector. Most of the times, composting or recycling is also not a feasible option since plastic components are profusely included in modern-day bouquets. ‘Talking Pots’ originally emerged as a concept to bring in the sustainability factor in gifting culture. Instead of opting for expensive and wasteful bouquets, people can gift a hand-painted pot with a plant.

Project Kalakriti is empowering marginalised women

Hailing from a remote Bengal hamlet, financial independence was once an alien term for Anjali Ojha. Her family of four had to survive on a monthly earning of less than Rs 8000. This was before Team Enactus got in touch with Anjali. They arranged for a workshop where village women like Anjali were trained by experts in painting pots and other clay items. At present, she is one among the many women whose pots are adorning homes, restaurants, luxury hotels and other retail outlets in Kolkata.

Enactus St Xavier's College Kolkata

Not long ago, Rekha Shaw, Varsha Das and Sushma Rai were ostracised in their community from being drug addicts. Through Project Kalakriti, they have discovered a new meaning of life, where they do not need harmful drugs to seek happiness and peace.

One of the beneficiaries was able to resume her higher education and recently completed her graduation with her own earnings.

‘Talking Pots’ are taking over Kolkata by storm

So far, over 3500 ‘talking pots’ have been sold in the urban market, garnering quite a sizeable revenue for these women. They come in diverse patterns and themes – ranging from Minions to motifs, abstract art to Avengers.

On the other hand, a hefty 360 tonnes of carbon footprint has been reduced through these pots, while 1,650 tonnes of plastic wastage could be prevented.

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“In 2016, only pots were being made. Now, we have branched out to making diya, candle stands and other clay handicrafts. Sustainability has always been our main focus and we have successfully integrated the marginalised people to work towards the common goal,” Unnati explains.

“We have also collaborated with potters and gardeners to help them with some additional income, while also trying to popularise the dying art of pottery,” she adds.

Project Shuddhi for clean drinking water

While ‘talking pots’ are slowly becoming the talk of the town, another segment of Team Enactus is working with the drinking water crisis in West Bengal villages, notorious for their dreadful arsenic pollution. Under Project Shuddhi, the students of St. Xavier’s College have designed a low-cost gravitational water filter, which sieves out heavy metals, toxic chemicals and pathogens and generates up to 10 litres of clean drinking water in an hour.

Enactus St Xavier's College Kolkata

The plastic body of the filter, which comes in three volumes – 9 Litre + 9 Litre, 24 Litre and 70 Litre – contains a Terafil candle and a mineral cartridge inside. While the candle is made from natural filtration elements like red clay, river sand and sawdust, the cartridge consists of a layer of minerals and has the capacity to filter up to 2000 litres of water.

Raising awareness about water contamination

Before the distribution process ensued, the student team took time out of their packed daily schedule to survey the hinterlands of Srirampur, Dhaniakhali, Raghudevpur, Balarampota, Raghabpur and other areas of West Bengal, to check the feasibility of their ambitious endeavour. With promising results, the initiative was launched on a much wider scale.

Enactus St Xavier's College Kolkata

So how do you convince the uninitiated villagers about the ills of unsafe drinking water? Project Shuddhi opted for the best way to spread awareness – health camps. 10 awareness camps with attendee headcount of 2,500 were organised across West Bengal, where doctors and volunteers convinced people about the need for clean drinking water.

Enactus St Xavier's College Kolkata

In the districts of Purulia, Nadia, and parts of North 24 Parganas, over 1,400 filters have been distributed to families at a very nominal cost, impacting over 4,500 lives. With the help of well-wishing sponsors, sometimes filters are distributed completely free of cost. Data reveals that the filters provide water at less than Re 0.085 per litre. The Project Shuddhi team tries to achieve a target distribution of around 250 filters per week.

Enactus St Xavier's College Kolkata

Collaboration at all levels

Project Shuddhi is not only about drinking water, as evident from the employment it is generating in these target villages. Villagers like Bipin Mahato, Kutubuddin Ansari, Satish Koribato and many more have come forward to work as local distributors and sellers of the Shuddhi filters in their respective areas.

A community upliftment initiative can never thrive unless and until all stakeholders are brought together into a closely-knit network. So the team has joined hands with Panchayats, local Kirana stores and NGOs working in those belts for better execution of their programme.

“Together, we can recognise possibilities, take action and enable progress,” determination resonates in the words of the team Enactus, who considers their two successful projects as the stepping stones to a better society. Driven by sheer goodwill, these youngsters have set a blazing example for the rest of young India to follow.

Also Read: IIT-Madras Students Design Septic Tank Robot Which Can Eliminate Manual Scavenging

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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