A Slum No More
Annai Sathya Nagar is not your usual Rotary project. It is not often that one comes across a Rotary club wanting to walk the untrodden path, interface with Government machinery that is glacial in its speed and creaky in its movement; connect with a community of 500 plus families and offer them:
- A toilet inside each of the 528 houses
- Water and sewer line for the entire locality
- Electricity from the main grid
- A community Hall
- All thirteen roads paved using concrete
- Run a balwadi for children
- Adult literacy, health camps, alcohol de-addiction campaigns
- RWH for all houses
- Setting self help groups with micro financing
The community was defecating in the open, adolescent girls never practiced hygiene during their menstrual cycles as that required them to use public toilets where menacing boys in prime of youth would jeer them; alcohol and drug addiction were rampant and the lady at home could do precious little about it as she was not empowered. This was how we faced it when we came there in 2002. The change it has wrought in the physical infrastructure and psychological space is transformational. We exited the project in 2006, handing over the reins of a fully functional, very livable community to its people. Re-visiting the project site this month and spending some valuable hours with the residents I had the feel of coming back to a long forgotten country cousin’s home; their warmth was palatable; the connect was instant and genuine.
Mr. Mani, the community leader who inspired the residents to let them be evaluated for property tax assessment and led them to pay their accumulated taxes in installments and feel proud that they have a shared destiny with the other denizens of Chennai, is indeed a tall leader. You can see that pride in their faces even today. The community is now close to a 1000 families; a few of the single or double storied structures have been remodeled to become triple storied; many which sported asbestos cement sheet roofing today have RCC roofing on their heads; houses are painted in bright hues in celebration of life; children vigorously pumping the pedals of their bicycles amidst all the noise and din of play is emblematic of a community that is feeling fulfilled and is in relative prosperity that they have earned for themselves. We didn’t help them in that effort but without a doubt, the sub-structure that enabled them pull off relatively successful careers came from the infrastructure that we gladly gave them.
Mr. Mani has the wisdom to say that they are so glad we came and lent a helping hand to them but is clear that they should not be avaricious to ask for more; instead he urges us to look at similar such communities that are crying to be lifted up. ‘We appreciate Annai Sathya Nagar is a first of its kind for RCME in its outreach to a slum. It is my ardent wish that you will replicate it elsewhere’. Those soulful words of equanimity from someone who has seen life-changing work done by two NGOs and a willing heart to enable others be the beneficiary of Rotary’s munificence, weighed heavily on me as I walked back to my car.