A packed hall with excited audience welcomed the “From Worship to WASH” panel at the Parliament of the World’s Religions on the 5th day of the event.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), opened the panel by sharing that water is life and sacred in all our traditions. However, fresh water is being depleted at a terrifying rate. The United Nations estimates that by 2040 the world will only have half the water that it needs. She emphasized that we all come together for peace but more people suffer and perish every year from lack of clean water than from all forms of violence combined, and by 2040 there could be hundreds of millions of water refugees.
She shared also the dire situation for women, girls and everyone living without access to toilets or improved sanitation and hygiene. GIWA brings together renowned faith leaders of India and from across the world to work diligently to end the unnecessary suffering deaths due to lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Co-Founder of GIWA, said, “My journey from Temples to Toilets began on my 60th birthday when I launched the 6T’s programme. Where the very first T is “From Temples to Toilets” because even though I have been behind the construction of many major temples abroad and in India I understand that the need of the hour is toilets and basic sanitation facilities. The people in the greatest need for these systems are our women and children. It is absolutely unfathomable to me that the same shakti – the divine feminine- who has given us life and brought light into our lives has to wait for the darkness to heed nature’s calls. Yet this is the state for many women in India and third world countries. But now with the Swachh Bharat Mission, GIWA and the efforts of Banega Swachh India movement this is not the case anymore and we are working tirelessly to inspire a change and improve WASH for all.”
From the Sikh tradition, Jathedar Patna Saheb Gurudwara Giani Iqbal Singhji shared, “In our scriptures there is a great emphasis on purification and cleanliness. Today in India, under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modiji and also our Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji we have an opportunity to join as faith traditions to bring back this emphasis on cleanliness and purity. It is also simultaneously crucial to protect our sacred rivers so that we do not have to speak, in the past tense, that India was a land where Mother Ganga used to flow. Therefore, the time for collective action is now.”
Also from the Sikh tradition, Bhaisahib Mohinder Singh Alhuwaliaji from Burmingham, UK, shared his great support for the GIWA initiative, ” this work to clean our water sources and clean our nation is crucially important and my full support is with Pujya Swamiji and these efforts to see them to fruition and impact positive change on the ground.”
Ven Bhikkhu Sanghasenaji, President, Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre – MIMC, gave a humorous and inspiring address saying, “At first when I heard Pujya Swamiji speak about From Temples to Toilets- I was shocked! I thought ‘what in the world is this monk talking about?’ But now after much introspection and reflection it is clear that he is exactly right! Because a temple is a place where we go to offer our prayers and reverence to God. But we can do that anywhere because God is everywhere. But to poo and pee we can only do that in a toilet! Hence, toilets are certainly more important than temples because they are a basic and essential need of our society and as faith leaders we have been called forth to inspire our communities and congregations to work with this vision and for this mission.”
He concluded by encouraging everyone to be Ambassadors for the Earth and Ambassadors of the Water.
Prof Mohammad Abu-Nimer, Senior Advisor KAICIID shared the importance of water from the Islamic perspective,”In the Koran, water is mentioned almost 63 times. 75% of our Earth, 70% of our bodies and 90% of our human brains is entirely water and therefore water is crucial and essential. As faith traditions it is critical for us to come together to protect that water. I would also like to add how incredibly inspired I am by the work of Pujya Swamijji and by his foresight and vision to call for temples before toilets. This is the courage and leadership we need today. To me this is the real faith in action!”
At the end of the panel the audience rose with great excitement and great energy in a pledge led by Sadhvi Bhagawatiji to be Ambassadors of improved WASH and to work tirelessly to protect our sacred rivers, our fresh water systems and all of Mother Nature.