Submitted by Subeditor on Tue, 2016-01-19 12:46 Bengaluru: Eight American high-school students have travelled to Shivamogga’s Byse village to assist women in constructing toilets. The students, all from the Westminster School in Atlanta, Georgia, are in India as part of an experiential-learning immersion program run by the Amrita University. After receiving training in basic masonry and other aspects of toilet construction at the University, the 17- and 18-year-old students travelled by train to Byse for the construction phase of the project. They are assisting village women in constructing their own toilets, even as they benefit from exposure to a different culture. This unique approach, in which villagers are taught and assisted in constructing their own toilets, is a part of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s massive Rs 200-crore sanitation campaign aimed at reducing open-defecation throughout India. Said Srividya Sheshadri, a social sciences PhD researcher from Amrita University who is overseeing the project’s field work: “The construction of toilets is the result of a more comprehensive strategy by Amrita towards skill development. Our approach is holistic and includes several projects such as improved education, water supply, sustainable agricultural practices, gainful employment and more. Along with learning vocational skills, the entire village is educated on best sanitation practices and the women trained spearhead the community outreach.” The American students have come to India as part of a program called JanTerm, an intensive, three-week course of study allowing them to focus on a single topic in depth at an accelerated pace. Sixty students applied to come to India but only 8 were selected for this rare opportunity. The students stayed near the Byse village to get first-hand experience and work alongside women in toilet-building efforts. They also engaged in community outreach activities. They learnt about technical aspects of toilet construction such as pan installation, flooring, constructing the Y chamber, roof and door installation, plastering, the drainage system, and constructing the pit. A special focus was given to sanitation literacy for village children, life skills and women empowerment, as those are vital to worldwide sustainable development. India-origin student Rahill Kamath expressed excitement at the chance to participate in the sanitation drive, saying that he had been inspired to do so upon learning about the various humanitarian programs initiated by the Math’s President and Amrita University Chancellor, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma). “Amma’s work in India is incredible,” he said. “I am so excited for us to join in this inspiring project.” The Westminster students are accompanied by two teachers, two parents and Amrita University staff. A second group of high-school students, from the Chadwick School, located near Los Angeles, will participate in a similar program in March. Byse is one of the villages adopted by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math through its Amrita SeRVE (Self-Reliant Villages) programme, an effort to turn 101 villages throughout India into models of sustainability.