BY RATTAN MALL
Dr. Gurdev Gill
NOW that’s what you call empowering women!
Former Liberal federal minister Herb Dhaliwal, who’s just back from a six-week visit to Punjab for the Indo-Canadian Friendship Society of B.C. / Indian Village Improvement Project, told Asian Journal this week that thanks to their development projects in 16 villages in the state of Punjab, women now want to know if their prospective husband’s village has a proper sewage system and toilets before they agree to the marriage!
Dhaliwal was also amused when he was told that women in the villages under their project no longer have fights because before the improvements in the systems they would throw their garbage into their neighbour’s compounds.
Dhaliwal said he is sort of an honorary member for the society and his role is to deal with the chief minister of the state and his ministers as well as federal ministers to keep things going.
The project is thanks to Dr. Gurdev Gill, a retired medical doctor, who spends six months in the year in India. Last November Gill received the Global Citizenship Award of the Alumni UBC Achievement Awards.
The citation noted: “In 1976, Gill founded the Indo-Canadian Friendship Society of BC. Initially focused on improving race relations in Canada, from the mid-1990s the organization has set its sights on improving living conditions for rural communities in Punjab. Since India’s sanitation is recognized as among the worst in the world, the projects have focused on providing clean, running drinking water, and building underground sewage systems and waste water treatment plants. The result is a marked decrease in disease – especially gastroenteritis, responsible for 400,000 deaths in India annually.
“Starting with Kharoudi village, where Gill was born, projects have so far been carried out in 16 communities at a cost of approximately $3 million. As well as improved sanitation, they have introduced solar street lighting and computer education in schools. Along with the health benefits, Gill is happy to report improvements in gender equality, education, governance and employment.
“Gill achieved all this with grass roots support, fending off corruption by insisting on as much transparency in the process as possible and keeping costs low. Now retired from his New Westminster practice, he spends half the year living in India overseeing projects.”
DHALWAL told me that the money for the project is raised by South Asians in Canada for their villages in Punjab, mainly in Jalandhar district, through the Indo-Canadian Friendship Society here and this is then sent to the Indian Village Improvement Project in India. Both are non-profit organizations. They get matching funds from the Punjab government.
Dhaliwal was all praise for India’s federal minister for rural development, Jairam Ramesh, saying he is “a very good guy who wants to work with us to cover more villages.”
He added: “We are actually putting together a proposal for [him] because he was impressed – he said I think you guys should do a thousand villages in Punjab and I am going to try and get you guys money directly.”
Dhaliwal said: “We are improving 75,000 people’s lives just in the 16 villages we did and our hope is to do 20 model villages and then we’ll work with the government to see if we can do more. It’s very rewarding because people come up and say, ‘Our children are not getting sick anymore like they used to,’ because there are fewer mosquitoes and no open sewers anymore.”
He noted: “It’s very rewarding and I visit the villages, talk to people, talk to schools, tell them how important it is about sanitation and hygiene and all that.”
He said: “We want to start a mini-revolution in India in rural development by just letting them know what can be done and how things could be improved. Unless you see it, you don’t believe it, right? Now they can go to the village and see the improvements. I really enjoy doing it.”