An integral part of ESI in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Suresh Bhai has dedicated himself to serving Gujarat’s villages by sharing and spreading healthy sanitation practices.
Limited knowledge of healthy sanitation practices, and low understanding of the impact of sanitation has led to the spread of uncleanliness and disease. Sureshbhai’s approach to spreading the message of sanitation, involves a trio of – knowledge, love and immersion. Knowledge of sanitation practice, love for the people receiving the service, immersion in their lives by becoming a part of them rather than being an outsider.
He is on the road 15-20 days each month visiting two to three villages, spending atleast 4-5 days in each village, sharing his knowledge, talking to the villagers about sanitation, learning about their problems and working on solving them. His faithful companion is the Nandini van, a mobile sanitation-education unit that he drives from village to village.Nandini is Shree Ishwar Patel's brainchild who was the mentor of sureshbhai.
Suresh Bhai’s journey started with a seed from within – one which prompted him to study Social work and Philosophy during his Masters at Gujarat Vidyapeeth. He calls it ‘Gandhi’s campus’ for the Gandhian values it is built around J Life took a fortunate turn when he was assigned to an NGO called Manav Sadhna for his 45-day internship. Manav Sadhna gave him the opportunity to be in the presence of two stalwarts of service – Ishwar bhai Patel and Jayesh bhai Patel. Ishwar Patel was the founder of the Environmental and Sanitation Institute, located in Ahmedabad. The father-son duo of Ishwar bhai and Jayesh bhai have been working for years designing toilets, training sanitation volunteers and so on for several years. The area of work, the extent of involvement, and the approach towards service had a profound influence on Suresh bhai. From Ishwarbhai and Jayeshbhai he learned of the KAP therapy – knowledge, attitude and practice.
His internship involved work in Gujarat’s largest slum area, where 50 homes were assigned to him for ‘practice’; to help the members of these families clean toilets, learn about sanitation practices and build new toilets or other sanitary facilities. This was difficult for him at first; especially hearing from his classmates about their internships, which primarily involved desk jobs, he felt depressed and nervous. However, with the help of the ESI community, he changed inwardly to view it as God’s work. He began building a rapport with the families in the 50 homes he was assigned to, and treating them as honored recipients of his service. He began helping them with tasks that they needed done around the house or farm, and taking care of them. In time he was eating with them almost every day, not as a volunteer but simply as a family member, one of their very own. In turn, this caused a shift in them and they too, began paying more attention to his words about sanitation and about building new toilets. Towards the end of the 45-day internship, he had helped build clean toilets in 42 of the 50 homes he had been assigned to. With the completion of the internship came an important realization – once a relationship beyond a giver-receiver (give-and-take) was formed, people began to listen more, and the impact was a natural outcome.
After the internship, he then went back home to North Gujarat, where his family lives. His father is a farmer, and his mother is a housewife. He realized that he wanted to continue the work he started in ESI, and wanted to dedicate his life towards that, while not neglecting his family. Refusing a more cushy government job, he shared these goals with his parents and wife, who at first expected him to return to their village and continue their ancestral occupation of farming. However, seeing his zeal and being convinced that this path led to both internal practice and external service, they gave their blessing. His wife, who he had first met at Gujarat Vidyapeeth, understood his heart and agreed to stay with his parents and serve the family while he traveled. They now have a 2 year-old daughter. Suresh bhai lives in his village about 5-10 days a month, and travels to various other villages and Ahmedabad the remainder of the month.
Suresh bhai continues to use his work to sow seeds of generosity in hearts. He sees his work not as merely connecting to sanitation, but that of joining hearts. He connects the mind-oriented attitude of more-educated volunteers with the heart-oriented attitude of the people among villages, creating vibrations of good between various communities and social classes. In spite of many difficulties, social and financial, he continues to stick to his motto of ‘love all, share all’, and throws his heart into any work available in any space. Small but intangible connections form, which have manifested as love and blessings from across the world, from all the people who have felt their own selves expand as they connected with other through this lokmitra.