Photo by Brandon Scott.
Born in the times of British India, Dr. Dayal Meshri is a Sindhi from the province of Sindh, which is now a part of Pakistan. He came to the United States in the early ‘60s to get his doctorate and moved to Tulsa a few years later.
“I love the people and I love the city,” Meshri says. “It’s a great place for a doctor.”
But Meshri’s work – he is a flourine chemist by day – doesn’t end when he leaves the office. Meshri has started a fund for Sindhi people that helps build toilets in areas where there are only public bathhouses.
He describes the country as being divided into two distinct parts: urban and rural. Meshri says that the urban parts of India are as modern as any part of the U.S., with hospitals, factories and anything else you can dream of.
“But you can still walk around these modern buildings and find a straw, shaggy hut where the poor live,” Meshri says. “On one side of the street you’ll see Jaguars or Porsches roaming around, but then on the other side, there are cows and people without shoes.”
Meshri has seen a lot of change in the rural parts of India in the last few decades. Twenty years, ago, he says, there were not many roads in rural areas, and pull carts or donkeys were the main forms of transportation.
“Now a typical rural area has both farmers and craftsmen who have home industries,” he says. “Because of oil found in some of these areas, farmers have become educated, and people have moved to cities.”
He developed an idea last year at a meeting of the Global Alliance of Sindhi Associates Worldwide, of which Meshri is president.
“There were about 300 of us out having a good time after a day at the conference,” Meshri says. “But then this one person said, ‘It’s fine that we celebrate our achievements, but what have we done for the community?’ He asked me to come with him to an area outside of Mumbai called Ulhasnagar. He wanted to show me how they lived.”
Meshri obliged. About 250,000 people live there, and about 95 percent are Sindhis – children of the original people who migrated when India was bifurcated in 1947.
“Some people got an education and left the area, but others not as fortunate are still there without much income,” he says.
During his first visit, Meshri saw the public bathhouses, which were built by the government. There are separate houses for men and women, but some people have to walk more than a few blocks just to get there, without a private bathroom of their own.
“And in the last few years, the roads have become much more dangerous,” Meshri says. “If a young girl at night had [to use the toilet], she would have to rush down the road, where she could be grabbed or molested. There have been several dozen cases of incidents like this.”
The public bathrooms situation is also difficult for the elderly, Meshri says.
“Some older people are unable to walk three blocks,” he says. “We are blessed in this country…it’s hard to understand this need unless you see it for yourself.”
That day, Meshri visited several of the public bathrooms.
“I felt so sick, I could not stand it. People come and look at you. They don’t ask for help, but you can see it in their eyes. There is an internal message that you can read: ‘Can you do something?’ Your heart recognizes it,” he says.
Meshri met with the local government leaders and told them that he wanted to start building private bathrooms. He found three builders who said they would work for no profit – just labor and material. Meshri set up a local committee, and the project began in earnest.
In just a few months, bathrooms have already been built in five houses, and Meshri says that the next 20 will be finished in December.
This fund is unusual in one important way: Donors can be assured that 100 percent of the money goes to the cause. There is no overhead to run the fund, and many of the organizers, including Meshri, pay legal or accounting fees out of their own pockets.
“God has given you 24 hours in a day only,” he says. “When you’re not at work, the rest of the time goes to people who need your help. It’s not time to lie down.”