3rd October 2012, Wardha, Maharashtra.
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra or the Great Wash Yatra was to officially begin from today, October 3rd 2012 here in Wardha, Maharashtra. The venue at the Helipad Ground was all set. The tents to accommodate 500 staff consisting of the Great Wash Yatra team, volunteers, vendors, security personnel, housekeeping staff and chefs who travelled from as far as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other parts of India, had been put up. The kitchen, cafeteria, mobile toilet units and drinking water points were established perfectly by the Delhi-based event group, Choices Entertainment, who are taking a convoy of 40 trucks, 10 buses and 5 small cars, carrying the Yatra literally on 'wheels'. Development professionals, media personnel, fellows and photographers from all parts of the world had all assembled here to be a part of a phenomenal event in the history of India’s inroad to water, sanitation and hygiene.
There was enthusiasm and joy among each one of us, to make a difference in whichever way we could possibly bring. This was till 4 pm on 2nd October 2012 when the skies loomed with dark rain clouds. The downpour that lasted for 2-3 hours left the entire grounds muddy, with rain water making small rivulets along the length and breadth of our occupation of the grounds. Our quarters in the tents gave way to the rain water that seeped in through small openings in the roof of the tent. The mattresses got wet, the carpets got totally submerged in rain water. All this happened while the workers were still erecting stalls and making the stage for the grand event on 3rd October.
Rain on Day 1 at Wardha, Maharashtra
The entire staff was moved to find shelter in hotels in the town while the volunteers were shifted to an ashram nearby. As we carried our bags and equipment to the cars that would take us to our hotel , the one thing that each one of us was thinking about was, "What will happen tomorrow? Will the Great Wash Yatra be postponed?"
The rains that didn’t stop the entire evening and came on and off as a moderate drizzle prompted the organizers to announce the postponement of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra to 4th October 2012. As I enter the grounds this morning I see the hard work that has gone into reconstructing the entire site, which involved a lot of mud work, washing the tents and erecting them all over again. The clouds are still looming with rain and the satellite report predicts possible rain in this part in the next few days. I walk towards the many people on the ground who are behind the scenes to get their thoughts and feelings on this delay. I was happily taken aback by their message.
Sabrina, Communications and Public Relations Manager,WashUnited gave me a broad smile, not reflecting any dampening of spirits at the turn of events. The grounds right behind her were wet with accumulated rain water and where the VIPs were to sit on the stage was empty and so was the ground. "The rain has washed our tents but not the Great Wash Yatra!" she smiled broadly, adding "I take this turn of events - the rain yesterday, the postponement and the time loss, as a sign from God with a message. Maybe, ironically, in all this there is a message given out to everyone in this part of the country that the Great Wash Yatra is here to propose solutions and awareness on water." She seemed all set to make this event happen inspite of the sudden change in plan, "Our enthusiasm is not deterred. Our emotions are positive. In this unpredicted event of the rains, though we did incur loss in terms of time and funds, we are focussing on the bigger gain of going ahead with an even greater resolve to make the Nirmal Bharat Yatra a success, even if it is a day later."
Sabrina, Communications and PR Manager, Wash United
Yasir Ali (28), from Choices Entertainment, the event management company fromDelhiis the front man you will find running up and down the grounds arranging everything. In a quick word he said, "Now that there is a delay in the programme due to the rain, I am not certain if the VIPs and the ministers who were to come to the opening function to address people will now come or not." 48 volunteers from across the country have come all the way from Delhi in three buses to Wardha and plan to go to all the five states including Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Yasir, Choices Entertainment
Naresh Sharma (27) is an enthusiastic volunteer fromDelhiwho has volunteered for mega events even before this. On the delay Naresh says, "We were prepared right from the start for any turn of events. Rain is something that cannot be predicted." The volunteers were trained on their roles and responsibilities in the Great Wash Yatra and they seem determined to carry them out no matter what comes in their way.
Naresh, Volunteer at the Wash Yatra
Rahul (40), Head of Choices Entertainment says, "If one day sets us back due to the rain, it doesn’t matter much because we still have 60 days of the Yatra with us and the education we are going to impart through it." Rahul has other businesses too and is a busy man, but he says, "The Yatra is the best challenge we as an event company have ever risen to."
Maria Fernandes (35), a consultant from Mumbai to Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) appears disheartened on the rain situation, constant drizzles, the dark clouds hovering and the delay. "I feel very sad because the main purpose of the Yatra to create awareness and bring a change within the community is delayed now, and I am not sure if we will be able to maintain the momentum." Maria is running a lab on Menstrual Hygiene Management in the Yatra and together with her team is aiming to reach out to school adolescent girls, teachers, anganwadi workers and mid wives to discuss the sensitive topic of this aspect of women’s health.
The sun comes up from in between the dark clouds, its 2 pm already, the preparation for tomorrow’s program goes ahead on a positive foot. The parting message came from Zelda (36), Technical officer, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Geneva, "In a way this delay is useful because its given everybody a little more time to test their ideas before we begin." I asked her if the VIPs that were to come to address the people would still be coming for the programme. She said, "Our target group is the rural community; government and VIPs are not the only people we are looking out for in this event."
As I walk through the puddles of water, see the colourful tents and stalls, the beautiful stage set for tomorrow I remember Sabrina’s words as I call it a day. "The rain washed our tents, but not the Great Wash Yatra."
By Urmila Chanam, India Water Portal Fellow, Arghyam
For full India Water Portal coverage of the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, click here.