By Kate Maguire
It all started with a mere poster competition. Volunteers were apprehensive to go to the school that day; would it go as per plan? Would the kids behave? Would the kids even turn up? As they stepped into the school grounds and slowly made their way to the hall, volunteers felt a sense of relief seeing the school children’s beaming faces as they dribbled into the hall energetically. The kids created the most beautiful designs to raise awareness for the upcoming Community Action Day (CAD) Clean Morra Project; Swachh Morra Abhiyan. An almost eerie hush descended as the children drew with utmost concentration for the winners of the poster competition would be revealed at the CAD. Famous faces were chosen to judge the competition, none less than Loganathan (Pravah ICS Project Supervisor), the sarpanch and the school principal!
But what would a competition be without amazing prizes to win? To pay for these prizes, volunteers had to fundraise and this was no mean feat! They went out every night for four nights in a row asking villagers if they could spare a few rupees to contribute towards the costs of the prize, a DJ (local music guy called Raj), and a projector for the evening program. UK volunteers learnt Hindi phrases to win the affection of locals and Indian volunteers struggled to battle the Mewari language barrier with the older generation; each learning with help from the local youth. The generosity of the village was astounding and their support immeasurable. They raised more than enough money. However, the volunteers had to also organise entertainment in the form of dances and drama, find speakers from the village to share their thoughts on the day, create a visually stunning and informative video to show.
The morning of 26th of February was the calm before the storm. Inside their host homes, volunteers frantically pulled together the last plans for the day; mobilising people in the village to attend, helping youth prepare for their dramatic dance debut, and adding last touches to the plan for the evening. The event would commence in only a few hours.
At 3 pm, you could feel tension in the air, what would be the outcome of the day? The volunteers knew one thing, if they didn’t visibilise the event properly it would be a complete failure so they headed out with members of the youth club to rally the children, “Swachh Morra Abhiyan!” they cried, “School mai!” and slowly but surely people came, in twos, threes, groups of fifteen, they attended the school for games and activities that tied into the cleanliness theme. Thirty or forty children were there, playing games like “7 pickup” a game already known by the children but adapted in the cleverest of ways to make them think about proper disposal of rubbish while having fun.
Now that they’d rallied the troops and built their enthusiasm, the energy of the vilage children led the next stage as they set out to do the most important task of the day – the street clean! The volunteers sent the kids with one task go home and get a broom, and come back as fast as their little legs could carry them. They returned within minutes before the volunteers and youth club members had even had a chance to lock the school, brandishing a broom and wearing the biggest smiles you have seen! The events that would ensue will shock even the most optimistic people.
DJ Raj had up until this point been hiding from the volunteers, sending worrying thoughts through their minds, but low and behold the hum of an engine and distant melody of the Clean India song could soon be heard heading towards the main temple, bringing with it the joy and promise of a great day. The ‘street clean’ began with a bang! Volunteers had envisioned only cleaning a small area surrounding the temple, thinking that it was a realistic area to cover. Little did they know the villagers had other ideas. As soon as Raj pumped up the volume a frantic cleaning effort started to fill everyone’s minds, as though the music had sent a cleaning spirit through peoples veins. The volunteers worried that this could quickly turn to chaos but when Raj began to drive, a mass of villagers followed, carried by their own energy and spirit. There was sweeping on a level that has never been seen in the world, let alone Rajasthan! Heads turned and people came out of their houses in astonishment as the wave of cleaners literally “swept” through the village! The sight even sent buffaloes into a frenzy! As the village children made their way back to the temple, the volunteers swiftly set to work, for the main event was still to take place. The video of the day was being completed, and the projector was being set up.
The next question on the volunteers’ minds was will adults turn up for the evening program? Some had been asked if the event could start later than planned, at 8 pm as opposed to 6, as they were so keen not to miss any of the action. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. What would they do? Pushing the time forward meant waiting around, but going ahead early meant that people might not turn up! The final decision was that we’d wait, as the people attending at 6 pm were children and could be kept amused with help of DJ Raj until the main programme took place. And wait patiently they did.
It was 7.30 pm and the crowds started to appear – women, children, men and the elderly alike. The numbers so vast that volunteers and villagers could barely believe their eyes! The children’s eyes were twinkling and alert as the poster competition winners were announced, and on collecting the posters they took an oath of cleanliness, hand to heart, applauded by the adoring audience. Next the dance and drama followed; some cleanliness related, and some for mere entertainment and comedy. The quality was incredible and the effort and choreography of the children was astounding as they came in themed costumes and outfits and performed witty plays and perfectly executed dances that were sure to wow even the most discerning of audiences. Following this, members of the community took the stage to speak about cleanliness issues, presented the first draft of a drainage petition to take to government officials and set up the video to finish the night. It was a masterpiece! Showing clips of villagers speaking about village issues before the event, astonishing shots of the sweep taking place and shots of the streets afterwards – the difference was incredible, and familiar faces on the screen tugged at the heartstrings of the audience.
It was clear to the village that this was the end of the event as people started to disperse once the screen went dark and the applause was hushed. Some stayed for fun and dancing afterwards and volunteers joined in – the relief and wonder evident in their eyes! None of this would have been possible without the community spirit and beating heart of Morra.
In the days that have ensued, effects of the CAD can still be seen across the village, the temple remains the cleanest area in the village and people can still be caught sweeping the roads in front of their houses, only shuffling out of sight when volunteers walk past. Hopefully, the effects of this CAD will resonate in the village for some time. It was definitely A Day To Remember.
(Kate Maguire volunteered with Pravah ICS from January – April 2017 and was placed with partner organisation Jatan Sansthan in district Rajsamand.)