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.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing

“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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but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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