On a dusty road lined by decaying heaps of leaves and sawdust, I sit in front of a carpenter and a young school girl motioning dramatically with my hands: making a cylinder and sweeping up and parting them and fluttering my fingers. I am of course imitating a tree. Eyes go wide in disbelief, followed by…. Hysterical giggles. Okay, okay. So prior to this sweeping rendition of a tree growing from sapping to full majesty, I may have squatted over a box with a toilet seat attached, motioned vaguely the deposits I would be leaving, which would then be used to, you got it, grow trees. While I am proud to say my communication skills have technically transcending the language barrier, the philosophy of the idea may have been reduced to a comic relief in an everyday-kinda-day. That’s a good start, though, to what we hope to be a composting revolution in North India (or a few small rural villages).
But why not? Why not “refurbish” our earth with the fruit of our, well, intestines. As English novelist George Meredith so eloquently puts:
Earth knows no desolation
She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay
I could go on and on about the need for conservation and rehabilitation in areas all over the world, but by now it should be obvious. If not, travel to villages that have been buried in mudslides during monsoon season due to the lack of trees holding the soil stable. No, reforestation is a need here in the Punjab, in Himachal Pradesh, and most likely anywhere else we decide to set up SWASH. But for now, this is one of our goals. Build and distribute portable composting toilets within our own organization, in the migrant camps, and in any small communities interested in trying this new, organic and slightly oddball project. There are myriad uses for the compost. We could:
- Reforest heavily forested areas (bet you didn’t see that one coming!)
- Cultivate sustainable tree plantations, such as bamboo
- Cultivate non-edible cash crops like roses, marigolds, tea, etc.
- Cultivate edibles to improve the diets of marginalized peoples
- Have toilets available in water-scarce areas AND
- Provide toilets for persons, especially women, in public areas like bus stops and markets
Really, it’s the kind of sustainable project that never ceases to give back and provide for the next generation; the benefits range from small to large scale lifestyle improvements and changes. And the unintended hilarity, ingenuity and bonding moments that come with building a composting toilet from scratch, not to mention finding and purchasing the supplies, and creating a space for the compost to be stored for the year it takes to complete its process, is invaluable. We’ll be doing a series of blog posts on this project, form the ultra-informative step-by-step process of construction to the hilarious tales of miscommunication and “jugaad” — you’ll have to read the post to understand the weight this word has. So, stay tuned, leave your feedback and enjoy the process with us… and join in the process if you have the time, motivation and “jugaad”!