Sunday, 3 March 2013

"I dreamed of having water and a toilet, I now have this"

The  pre intervention communities had always been the harder ones to leave. It is a difficult prospect to meet people with so very little, discuss the problems they face day-to-day and then file back on our mini-buses.  Leaving the slum that morning filled me with mixed emotions as we had seen first-hand how impoverished this community was, yet had also witnessed how powerful our message could be in sparking into action the Municipal Corporation.

With time for a brief pit-stop at the hotel, we were on our way to a second slum - Arjun Nagar. With the community having been assisted by WaterAid since 2008, I was unsure what to expect given the sights of this morning - after all, the word 'slum' very much conjures the images in your mind which were now a lot easier to picture. Arjun Nagar has 400 households and a total population of >2200. Having been in existence for some 30 years, the community were identified through situational analysis of WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) with an objective of improving the communities' access to sustainable, safe and adequate water supply and sanitation. In 2008, the slum only had a single bore well which supplied water for 2 hours every day. In the summers, the slum used to face an extreme water crisis and would need to access water through tankers provided by the Municipal Corporation. At times, the community would need to collect water from as far as 2km away. In terms of sanitation, only some 180 of the 400 households had toilets, most of which were connected to sceptic tanks which would overflow into the outside drains. The remaining households would be forced to openly defecate. Once again, some similar themes emerged in so far as; people had a perception toilets cost a lot of money which they simply could not afford; it was difficult to build toilets and there was insufficient space; most people did not see anything wrong with open defecation and could not relate any health, safety or dignity issues with it.

 Since 2008, WaterAid had helped by:
- setting up awareness campaigns on Water and Sanitation;
- constructed demonstration toilets to show how these could be built using a low cost model     for design;
- facilitated constructing toilets with community contribution;
- motivated 135 households to construct their own toilets;
- facilitated the community to access municipal resources for 3 bore wells and 13 community standpipes;
- assisting with the formation of a slum level Water and Sanitation Committee and a Operation and Maintenance Committee for water supply;
- promoting and motivating the entire slum to become open defecation free.

Murals were painted on the walls around the slum, re-inforcing
the education the community had received as part of the WASH
Entering the slum, a stark difference could immediately be felt. As our party walked down the road towards a congregation of people from the community, a long wall ran parallel to us with murals of WaterAid paintings promoting things such as using a latrine and  how to wash your hands. As the slum opened out before us, the same celebratory welcome we had received in other villages during our week was once again provided in a small square just on the edge of the slum. Seated on some chairs around the edge of this square, people of the community sat with us, with a small group of women sitting in a circle in the middle. It was explained to us that these women would like to play some music for us which meant for the next 5 minutes we could sit back and enjoy the enchanting sound of a drum being played whilst the rest of the women in their beautifully vibrant saris sang to us.

Women of the community singing to welcome
our party
Throughout the week, people in our party were offered the chance to provide the address at the beginning of the visit, or thanks at the end. With this being our very last visit, I felt this too big an opportunity to pass up. Having briefly scribbled something on my notepad on the bus, I waited whilst the head of the community gave his address. I talk to people a lot at work, often having to provide presentations and such. Yet I felt nervous for probably the first time all week. Standing up and speaking didn't really bother me, it was more a case of wanting to 'get it right' given the warm and humbling welcome we had received. By the time I stood up though, I realised there was no need to be nervous. Though we hadn't fully witnessed it yet, this slum was not like the Shiv Nagar; the roads were clean, there was no rubbish or open drains around us, the people were nourished and happy and there was a community here. This had only been achieved with the help of WaterAid. With that thought in my mind, I felt it didn't really matter what I said too much, like at Shiv Nagar, our white t-shirts with WATERAID written on them symbolised a change in all their lives for the better...

Hello, my name is Matt Kirk and on behalf of all of us I'd like to say thank you for sharing your beautiful song with us and your warm welcome. We are humbled to be here with you all;
We are a group of friends who support WaterAid to raise awareness and support in the United Kingdom, so that interventions in communities such as yours can continue elsewhere.
We are delighted to be here with you all today and look forward to meeting with you and spending time with your families to discuss how the WASH initiative and other work has benefitted your lives.....    Thank You.

After the address once again we split off into our groups to go and spend time with the families we had been arranged to visit. Walking just a few hundred yards down a clean track, we stopped at a small house on our left. The house was blue with corrugated iron sheets across the front. Removing my shoes, I sat with the others opposite a lady named Ramvati Vishwakarma, the mother of this household and someone who two hours later, I would remember for a lifetime as an inspirational person. Ramvati lived with her husband and three children - Manish (22 yr old son), Dharmendra (20 yr old daughter) and Anuradha (15 yr old daughter). 

We asked Ramvati to describe life before WaterAid had intervened. She described how before the intervention women had to defecate in the night time as they felt embarrassed otherwise and that with illnesses such as diarrhoea this made it all the more embarrassing. The water pump was also very far from her house so she would most often travel to the pump with her children and leave their buckets there with their children waiting in the queue so she could return home to cook and work and they could wait until it was their turn to collect water. Ramvati explained how this often meant her children were either late for or missed school and how fights would break out between the father and the mother as food would not be ready. 

Throughout our trip illnesses such as Diarrhoea had been brought up as being abundant throughout communities with unsafe drinking water or sanitation. The World Health Organisation in 2009 estimated "diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five globally. More than one in ten child deaths – about 800 000 each year – is due to diarrhoea". This was not the only way people in this community were getting sick. Ramvati explained how people used to suffer from viral fever and skin allergies causing them to have to spend lots of money on medicine and doctors. She explained how if they did not have enough money then they would have to stay at home and be ill, causing them to be unable to work and earn, or in the case of children, attend school. Ramvati described how before the toilet facilities were constructed, they (women) would travel in groups to cross the roads ad to keep safe. Faced with re-ocurring stomach upsets she simply said "we were afraid to go to the toilet".

Ramvati explained how before the WaterAid intervention, the water pump was a 1km walk away. One day, her son had fallen in the water tank whilst trying to collect water. It was 10ft deep and took many people from the community to get him out. Ramvati described with unease how unwell Manish became from falling in the tank and how from there on out she would always escort her children when collecting water. With having to travel very far to collect water, Ramvati was afraid for her family as there was not enough water to be able to collect. In the summer, due to the water shortage, she would collect water all morning and afternoon stating how "it had become instinct not to waste any". In the rainy season, the track to the water pump would become water logged and extremely muddy. 

Ramvati Viswakarma
The great thing about post-intervention communities I found during my time in India is getting to ask the question "what has changed since the intervention?". It's the best question to ask and I always looked forward to it for the simple reason that you knew the answer would be a positive and happy one. And it was. Ramvati relaxed, sat back with her head up and smiled as she explained just how her and her families' lives had ben changed;

New standpipe immediately outside Ramvati's
"There is no more waiting for water (pointing to the new standpipe immediately outside her house with bright orange taps on it). Since the intervention we are living a better standard of life with access to water and toilets and it means children can go to school". Manish at this point added in English "it is a better society for living, we spend less time collecting water and more time going to school". As with any proud mother, Ramvati's smile was beaming when she explained how Manish was studying a degree to become and Engineer. She re-iterated how if children were waiting with buckets to collect water, this was time they could not be in school. She firmly believed, as i think we all did, that without this intervention, Manish would not have been admitted into study his degree. Anuradha had been awarded a scholarship to a private school which amounted to 400R a year which she could spend on books and materials. The school itself was 350R a month however, which despite being a lot of money to this household, I sensed would be something Ramvati would always ensure she could pay. 

Manish stood with newly constructed
latrine behind him
Ramvati invited us into her home. As we walked in to the largest room, a bed with a big red cover was up against the wall with a religious shrine on the wall adjacent. Walking through this room we entered the tiny kitchen within which Ramvati cooks for 5 people, it was clean and tidy. Turning right was Anuradha's room, she proudly showed me her brother's books on Mechanical Engineering. Straight through the kitchen led to a small garden with a newly built latrine. Manish explained to James and I how much of a difference this had made to his family. This house, not much bigger than the average sized living room, was Ramvati's pride an joy. As we came back out into her front yard, another girl introduced herself as Neelu Vishwakarma (though no relation to the family we were with). Her English was fantastic and we chatted about how she had managed to get a job in a call centre which helps her pay for her tuition at college - she was currently in her second year studying commerce. Neelu clearly knew the family well and joined our discussion in the front yard. 

Before long a great number of people had gathered. I think on reflection the time spent in Ramvati's company was one of my fondest moments of the trip. We were talking and laughing with Ramvati and her family as well as the other people from the community who had come to meet us. Manish had disappeared a few moments earlier, but suddenly re-appeared with the silver tray we had seen many a time before. Whilst we were warmly welcomed into this community we had not had our heads marked or been given the flowers which we had received in the other communities. Ramvati had sent Manish to buy some in order to personally welcome her guests. The next few minutes were truly humbling. We were each given a garland of flowers and had our foreheads marked as a sign of respect. After speaking with Neelu, James approached me  with a big smile, he had spoken with Ramvati who had very simply, but so poignantly said to him;

"I dreamed of a home, I now have one
I dreamed of my family not being ill anymore,
they are now healthy
I dreamed of having water & a toilet,
I now have this
I dream my children would have an eduction,
they are now at university
I live in a slum but I will never stop dreaming,
that is the only way I will become more"

I will never forget my time with Ramvati and her family. we visited a number of other households briefly during this visit, with the resounding feeling being that everyone was proud to live in this slum and be a part of the community who had transformed their lives since WaterAid had provided the much needed WASH awareness and support required. With their new found confidence, we were told how the community regularly 'pester' the Municipal Corporation to enforce laws which they now know about are there to protect them. WaterAid had educated this community, and they now had a strong voice.

Me with Aarambh Sahay, yet another inspirational empowered
woman I met in India.
Before I left there was one more person I wanted to meet, Aarambh Sahay. Dressed in a beautiful green Sari, a nice handbag over her arm and big sunglasses covering her eyes, the initial impression given was this was an empowered woman. She was... she had set up and was now  Director of Childline Bhopal. Every day Childline Bhopal help 60-80 children in danger, providing them with food, water, safe refuge, love and support. I didn't have very long to speak with Aarambh and though I wanted to, it wasn't needed. She had left a lasting impression in the same way Amarsingh, Ramvati and so many other had this week, she was a role model, an inspiration.

I hope this blog has given an insight into the communities we have visited across the week. I will only write one more blog as a summary and reflection on our visit as well as a brief bit about our return home.

If anyone has been inspired by this, please visit water for more information,


Monday, 25 February 2013

I have never been to a slum before....

Firstly, a quick apology for a gap in the updates of the last couple of days. We were able to see so much that time to sit and write was few and far between. To do our final visits justice, I have decided to separate the experiences of Friday into 2 parts. The 2nd part to this day I will aim to post later.


I have never been to a slum before, and the prospect seemed a little daunting. Since being in India the word poverty has taken a new meaning to me and ultimately one which I thought would only develop further with the experiences which would lie ahead. Only 15 minutes from our relatively plush hotel we turned right off the main road into a large open expanse and down a dirt track. To the right were some houses with a water tower overlooking them and it was explained this was where better off people lived, the tower being their water supply. Approximately 750m directly opposite was the slum the land in between is where the community in the slum are forced to openly defecate.

There was rubbish everywhere. The entire site looked like a rubbish tip. A drain akin to a small brook at home was full with black rotting sewage. Wild boar roamed endlessly around eating the rubbish, and in amongst the small crowd which had now gathered by a tree near the start of the slum. Surprisingly I thought the smell would be worse, though I have worked on a sewage treatment works before and feel this could have desensitised me a bit. Every now and then when there was a gust of wind though the smell of urine and sewage would hit you strongly.

A big welcome would not have been appropriate this morning. WaterAid India have highlighted the slum of Shiv Nagar as somewhere for potential future intervention, but to date had not mobilised. The value of visiting Shiv Nagar would be to experience a slum first hand pre-intervention. There are 3000 households in the slum with an average of 5 people living in each household. The slum has existed for about 40 years and is predominantly populated by migrants from nearby districts who have moved to the city in an attempt to find work. In Shiv Nagar, none of the households have their own piped water connection. Instead, water is drawn from low level standpipes from 6 bore wells providing water for just an hour a day. With such a small windows of opportunity to draw water, the sheer volume being drawn off in this hour means pressures drop in the pipes such that insufficient water can be collected from certain parts of the slum.

In the summer, this problem is further exacerbated by all but one of the boreholes wells drying up. The Municipal Corporation though providing this well haven't trained anyone to operate or maintain it. In terms of water supply therefore, the slum suffers severe water shortages. This is just one part of the story. The second is water quality. The pipes which convey water to the standpipes run in small channels which are used for drainage through the slum. These drains run outside every house and next to every standpipe throughout the slum. Surface water, grey washwater and rubbish are dumped in these channels causing them to overflow. As there is barely any gradient, the sewage is retained, stagnating all around. All of the drains are open.

What this means is that, any small break in the pipe (of which there are plenty as, desperate for water, people deliberately break the pipe to get water) will result in infiltration of this sewage into the pipe as soon as it becomes depressurised - which it does of course, for 23 hours of the day! As the standpipes are simply open connections just above the level of sewage, people have to collect water in these conditions, and as I noticed, often barefoot. I collected water from one standpipe and could visibly see it was slightly milky and almost certainly contaminated. What deeply shocked me was our translator relayed a message from one of the women we passed saying it had been know that one lane in the slum had drunk from the drain itself before, due to a lack of water.

Out of 3000 households, only 250 have toilets connected to sceptic tanks - the overflows of which run directly into the open drains. Everyone else in the slum either openly defecates or pays to use the small communal toilet. The communal toilet is a fair distance for the majority of households as it is sited up by the main road. People must pay 5R (6.25p) to use the toilet and a further 3R to use the shower (3.75p). Though seemingly insignificant amounts, paying this for one person would consume a decent proportion of household income, let alone paying for a family of 5. When I approached this old building, the smell was awful. A group of ladies at this point approached me holding their noses of waving their hands in front of the faces signalling the smell was unbearable - they were right. There are 12 toilets for men and 7 for women, yet surprisingly when I walked into the men's there was no smell and the toilets were relatively clean. Two things suddenly dawned on me, the men must openly defecate instead and it was the women having to suffer the smell.

Like the villages yesterday, I was told how women would wait until dark to openly defecate, unable to do this in the daylight due to the shame they felt and not being allowed to defecate in front of men. With disease and illness rife in the slum, when suffering with sickness and diarrhoea women and children would run to the communal toilets to go. Due to the distance though, they would seldom get there quick enough forcing them to go in the street.

There is no waste collection or diposal in the entire slum. All waste is dumped in the open and left to rot as the Municipal Corporation does not provide waste management to the slum. The result is diseases such as Malaria and Typhoid are rampant as well as most inhabitants suffering from one or a combination of sickness, fever, skin problems, stomach upsets and diarrhoea. When shooting the footage with the media team, a women was holding a 3 month old baby and once again I could feel that lump in my throat rising again - in the UK this baby would have been rushed to the nearest intensive care unit.

After the initial insight to the slum we were separated into our groups once again. My group were led to a nearby house. The lady who met us was Vidhya, who was a wife and mother of three. Her front yard was spotless and as she welcomed us in, she laid out a beautiful white and purple mat for her guests. Often throughout our trip we have been offered food and water as gifts of warmth and hospitality. It is a difficult but necessary thing for us to refuse in order to avoid getting ill ourselves. Both food and water are scarce to the people we have met and the realisation of a person inviting you into their homes and sharing their lives and what little they have with you, is a difficult thought to process when the reason I'm turning it down is the very reason they become sick.

Vidhya had moved to the slum with her husband Pappu from a district called Vjalpur in Madhya Pradesh as they had no family and needed work. I asked Vidhya what problems she faces day-to-day; “for the last 7-10 days there has been no electricity which means we cannot eat anything other than boiled rice".  I asked then how there was still water flowing, to which our interpreter explained an illegal connection had been made to a private electricity supply in order to maintain water. Vidhya explained every evening the ground (the large area we had originally driven into) was used for open defecation with women having to wait for up to 3 hours before they could go. This was as a result of the open defecation area having a dirt track from the road through it which meant women would have to wait until there was no one around so they were not embarrassed. Vidhya further explained she had a daughter of 16 and it has become increasingly difficult for her as she was not safe; "men from the tracks can drink and do anything - it is not safe for them".

Vidhya also explained how the drains overflow in the rainy season. The slum had asked the Municipal Corporation to clean it but they never have. I probed a little further about how she felt about the safety of her and her daughter; “people would drink. I would go with her to keep her safe. Many times boys and men would tease them. Many times I had difficult situations with men taking drugs. Men would take advantage of the darkness so no-one could see them”. With the dirt track being just off the main road, truckers and men from the city would come and drink and smoke drugs in the open defecation area. Though she did not explicitly say it, I knew the same atrocities were happening here as they were in Amrod. The other groups from our supporter’s team later confirmed what I suspected in so much as women and young girls were being sexually assaulted. For one group though, it had been explained that young boys had been assaulted too.

Our conversation moved on to talk about the Government. By this time the yard outside Vidhya's house had become full of the women who lived on the lane. They all explained how; “many people come here and commit many things but never come back”. She explained how they were never provided with chlorine tablets or even able to access doctor; “people only come at the time of elections to collect votes. Politicians came and used to call us brother and sister but afterwards they never came back. We were told we would be given facilities but never do. Government make policies but people who have to implement them never do".

Given what we had witnessed, it was important to understand what Vidhya and the other women felt about the safety of the water they have to drink; “we can only drink that water so safe or not we have to use it, we cannot go elsewhere. Within the community, what I had feared from seeing the malnourished baby earlier began to unfold before us. In the community many ladies lose children shortly after child birth due to illnesses such as diarrhoea and vomiting. Vidhya herself explained how she had been a mother of four until her 3 year old daughter Neeta died as a result of dehydration. This was shocking to hear. All the more heartbreaking was how this was common place - the lady next to her had lost their child after just 3 days.

Vidhya explained how all activities of child birth used to be carried out in the households but now go to the hospital due to infections and lack of care at home. As there is no doctor nearby, they can call for an ambulance, though it may only turn up 50% of the time. With no ambulance, they are forced to hire whatever they can in terms of transport to get to the hospital. As we asked a little more about the medical care they could access Vidhya explained how they have a green card which indicates they are below the poverty line and with this card they can access free medicines. The problem with this is corruption. To have the application form for a green card processed, a bribe of 1000R is necessary. Moreover, doctors at the hospital purposefully prescribe medicines which are not stocked at the hospital so that people such as Vidhya are forced to attend pharmacies where they must pay for the medication. This culminates in a massive proportion of a households income being spent on medication.

Given everything we had discussed, I asked Vidhya what her hopes or fears were for the future; “I am afraid to stay here. It is very hard for us and painful to lose children and see them getting sick”. I asked what would improve her life; “I want basic facilities, water, a toilet and electricity. There’s no-one to clean the drains and lots of flies and mosquitoes. Lots of families are not getting food because there is no electricity so are just boiling and eating rice”.

Nearing the end of our conversation we asked the crowd which had now gathered whether they had any questions for us. Vidhya asked what it was like in our country. I once again found myself proud in explaining the services people in the UK receive. A doubt sprung in my mind at this point whether this would be hard for them to hear, but it was received with hope. The next question was what WaterAid would do for them – the earlier message about the Government’s inaction vivid in their minds. Careful not to make promises which might not be delivered, James and I explained how WaterAid raise international awareness and support for communities such as theirs. We explained how the education and promotion of some communities we had visited in India had meant people’s lives were transformed, but ultimately we would tell all we could about Shiv Nagar to pressure the Government into releasing funds to help their situation. For this answer, Vidhya said we were like Lord Krishna who visited his neighbour to help him because he was poor.

Following our visit we made our way back to the open area where our buses had parked. Confronting us was a JCB and two lorries excavating the rubbish in the brook I had described earlier. The stench was overbearing and black sewage was a sight to behold. The people in the slum were now coming out of their houses to see this too, many sweeping more rubbish into the drain. It was difficult to understand what was going on. Confused, I wandered parallel to the drain until I was directly opposite this large machine; “the Municipal Corporation found out we were coming”. By this point I didn’t know how to feel, the emotions of listening to Vidhya’s daughter dying, the malnourished 3 month year old baby and the physical and sexual assaults which were ongoing deflated me.

I learnt from our translator the head of the Municipal Corporation wanted to meet us. I didn’t want to meet him. I turned to James and said I wanted to tell this man he had failed as a human being. James had been a good friend right from the very start and a great person to share the trip with, with his positive outlook he explained he saw it that WaterAid had shamed this man into taking action, we had made a difference. That difference may only tackle a small part of the problem, and may have stopped as soon as we left, but WaterAid had made a tangible, positive impact on these people’s lives simply by raising awareness. James was right and I found myself smiling for the first time all morning.

As our party said goodbye, I smiled at the man from the Municipal Corporation, hope being at the forefront of my mind that even if this man did not make any changes in the future, the people of this slum would always remember our white t-shirts with WATERAID written on them and know that more would always be possible for them.


Thursday, 21 February 2013

WaterAid transforms lives in Sehore

I am sat on the bus back to the hotel wondering how I can convey the emotions and experiences of today. We are now in Bhopal following a train journey down from Gwalior yesterday. Today we started by travelling across to the village of Amrod in the Sahore District. The welcome we received was a little more subdued than usual, however I feel this was a good thing as it later turned out the villagers would speak more openly about their experiences and concerns which prompted change in the village. Once again though the welcome was warm with our heads been being marked as a sign of respect and each of us handed a coconut as a sign of warmth and love.

Amrod is a village of 570 people in 84 households. Up until The intervention started the village had 100% open defecation. The head of the village described how this had caused many problems to emerge with women finding it difficult to cope with things because there were no private toilets. With WaterAid and implementing partner Samarthan providing knowledge, help and support, the village had managed to construct 75 toilets since November with just a further 9 to complete.

The personal difficulty I have wrestled with whilst on this trip is there has always been a thought in my mind that something was being kept back. Today, Alex (WaterAid supporter from Scottish Water) asked what prompted the decision in the village to make such a change. We were told by the village head that open defecation was not wanted by the women of the village as they were suffering the most. Motivation had been given by the Samarthann and WaterAid who had provided hygiene education and information and access to cheap toilets. Both the Samarthann and WaterAid had worked to engagement most marginalised people in the community to ensure the village could become 100% open defecation free. With construction starting in November, 75 latrines have been constructed leaving just 9 left to build. The target therefore is to achieve complete coverage by March 2013.

"Because of the intervention by WaterAid and the Samarthan have made in the village the suffering described had been overcome so that safety and dignity could be improved as well as personal safety". This was when the penny was starting to drop for me but it was not until a young man who made an impromptu address to the congregation did anyone dare admit it publicly; "we used to look to the government for help and wait for funds, we learnt see could help ourselves. The work started following an incident where a young girl was sexually assaulted".

After the initial addresses, the team I was in were charged with digging two waste pits for latrines. The idea is that a latrine (ground level toilet) has 2 pits whereby once the first pit is full it is covered to allow it to compost with the 2nd pit then in use. Once composted the first pit is dug out, with the compost used on crop fields - and so the cycle continues. Digging the pits was a lot of fun and was nice to be working with the villagers and making a very tangible difference even if it be in the smallest of ways. Another group of supporters were bricklaying to build the walls of the latrine itself. To build one latrine takes a week, and the finished articles looked superb! After a quick interview I took the opportunity to speak with the man who was working with me in the pit we had dug.

I don't believe I have ever met anyone in the flesh who I would call a true inspiration until today. Amarsingh Vishwakama is 65 and lives in the village of Amrod. Until June 2012, Amarsingh was afraid for his wife who had no choice but to openly defecate due to no sanitation in the entire village. The women in the village would wait until nightfall before they would go out into the fields to defecate because they found it too embarrassing in daylight. Waiting until dark though means the women and their families fear for their safety due to the risk of sexual assault. Amarsingh said "this is my village I used my savings to build a toilet for my familly. Once it was built I went around the village advocating and helping other people build their toilets. It is about dignity and safety for the women".

With knowledge, help and support from WaterAid and the Samarthann, Amarsingh has promoted change in his village so that by March 2013, every household will have their own latrine. Because this man has decided to BE the change, his nieces Nirmla (18) and Renuka (11) were able to tell me today they now feel totally safe. Our translator had explained during our conversation with the girls that rape had been rife around this area.  With people like Amarsingh and organisations such as the WaterAid and the Samarthann though, aspirations for safety and sanitation are now realities. As part of the Gram Panchyat, Amarsingh used his influence to persuade the village to install toilets and follow his lead to keep the women in the village safe. For this, I felt he was an incredible man - but, as with all great men, when I told him what an inspiration he was he just smiled and said "9 more to build".

I needed some time to compose myself after listening to Amarsingh and his family's story. With a wife myself as well as a sister and mother and with numerous female friends, I had a lump in my throat. It is one thing to be afraid, but another to be afraid and incapable of making change. The Government had clearly ignored this issue for years and at 65 years old, I can only imagine Amarsingh must have felt isolated and desperate. Cut off from Bhopal, all of the villagers believed they couldn't afford toilets. With guidance and empowerment from WaterAid and the Samarthann the village need rely on no-one but themselves to be the catalyst for change. Strip away the politics of India, and just take it on a simple humane level, there is no greater reason for WaterAid to be present in India other than what I witnessed this morning.

After leaving Amrod, we set off for what I had expected to be the most exciting part of the trip; a visit to the village school in Padli. When we arrived, we were greeted by the children with our heads being marked and each of us handed a flower. We were told about how the school had formed a committee of the schoolchildren to teach them about hygiene and education so that they could be the driving force for change within the village.

Breaking into groups, James, Sophie and I chatted with a group of 30 children including the Health minister (Binki aged 13) - responsible for ensuring all the children had cut nails and we're washing their hands regularly and in the right way; the Education minister (Dipika aged 12) responsible for the library and ensuring the children are reading; and Aarti (aged 11) and responsible for ensuring the plants around school had been watered.

In total a committee of 10 are responsible for the school. These were intelligent and proud children whose school was spotless and tidy. This innovative method of engagement with the community is an effective one. By WaterAid educating them about hygiene they independently went back into the village to promote their awareness. Open defecation used to take place throughout the village and mainly in the school playground due to the open space. To prevent this the children would play games at night in their playground with their teachers to ward off people from doing this. Moreover, they were given whistles to embarrass people into not openly defeating. The result? In 3 months the vilage has achieved 100% sanitation status - something the children should be very proud of - and they were and will continue to be as education is the only answer to lasting change.

I ran out of notes at this point. Mainly because for the next 2.5 hours we played. For James and I, taking photos with an ipad/PlayBook meant we were swamped by children constantly - which was great fun. We posed for photos then showed them back to them and they loved it. We shared our photos of home and answered questions about England too. The last half hour ws spent running round in circles on the play ground playing a game I was not fit enough for! But immensely enjoyed.

When answering questions, possibly the most poignant came from the Education Minister "are men and women equal in England". I proudly answered "yes, everyone is equal in every way". It is possibly the first time I have thought about it, but it resonates here just how lucky we are back home... I'm suppose I'm more proud that this intelligent little girl who has already transformed a village of nearly 1000 had the courage and belief to ask whether there is more to aspire to - hopefully our answers today will continue to help her do that.

I hope this inspires others in the same way it moved me. Please share with friends and family if you wish and as ever, loads of info can be found on

WaterAid transforms lives.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

"Water is life"

After an inspiring second day, the cultural experience did not finish until 2.30am. This was not intentional though - far from it! I returned to my room last night at 11pm to find a huge wedding celebration going on outside my room. The colours and music were vibrant and lively with flowers and rugs covering a staged area with people dancing and singing. Now whilst this was quite something to witness, after being awake 21 hours I just wanted to sleep! After a 3 hour power nap, I woke to an alarm, a knock on the door from Jackie and a phone call from Bex - better safe than sorry...

Once again we boarded the mini-bus, this time to make our way to the village of Jonhar in the Datia District of Madhya Pradesh. The journey we were informed would be a little bumpy - this was in fact a bit of an understatement! The Government had approved work to go ahead (I'm not sure when but looked to have been several years ago) and a contractor had stripped the road surface off. Due to the amount of rainfall and time which has passed this has caused the road to be full of potholes... And when I say potholes I mean casums! Imagine the biggest potholes you've seen and then make a motorway out of them!

So the journey was quite uncomfortable but very entertaining. We saw overturned lorries on the side of the road, a tractor towing a trailer so overloaded with produce in white sacks it had run a lorry off the road and into the verge and of course just about everything you could imagine walking down the middle of the road. After about an hour we stopped at a hotel for a short comfort break. Far enough out of the city now, the Indian landscape unfolded in incredible beauty. The hotel sat risen on the edge of a lake overlooking the surrounding area for miles. Opposite the hotel was a mountain with a large fort perched on top of it.

When we finally arrived in the village of Jonhar, we were once again greeted like royalty before taking a seat in the village square underneath a large tree. The village has a population of 1100, though it is a 1km walk to the nearby well to collect water for them. Coupled with this is an extremely poor sanitation status with sanitation not being a priority for the majority of the community - open defecation equates to 100% of the populace. The purpose of the WaterAid intervention here was to analyse water quality and security in the village and liaise with the Public Health Department to promote investment in a new, more secure water source.

Today it was my turn along with two others to be filmed by the WaterAid film crew experiencing first hand what water means to a family in the village. Dharmanda (29) was the man of the household we visited. He lived with his wife Sonam (22) their child Ayush (1) and 11 others in their house. Their livelihood consisted of four hectares of land which the family farmed for wheat, rice, grain and pulses. In addition they had a cow and buffalo. When we asked about the water source they use and how often they collect water, Dharmanda said they collect water 4 to 5 times a day. We followed by asking who collected the water, to which he replied "Sonham, it is her responsibility to collect water".

I took this opportunity to ask Sonham some questions. This was going to prove difficult though as time and time again the men of the family would try to speak on her behalf. Eventually, the questions were directed only to Sonham and the other people in the house were kindly asked to let her speak. I asked Sonham what the water is like and whether she felt the well was safe; "the well is there and so I assume the water is good, it is never tested". I then asked whether the well was always accessible; "yes, all year round". Sonham had been married for 5 years to Dharmanda, and when asking him what he does when Sonham collects water he stated he would stay at home and look after the children.

We continued to ask what life would be like for Sonham if there was a new nearer water source; "I would save time which can be used for working on the farm and spend more time with my family". As we had already been informed that Sonham collects all the water for the family, I asked her whether anyone had ever been sick because of the water; "for four months of the year there are various diseases - during the rainy season". I continued to ask her how she felt about having to give her child Ayush this water; "sometimes I feel very afraid".

I found Sonham's reply difficult to hear. As she continued to explain that everyone would get sick with fever, stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhoea it is hard to comprehend how she must feel as a mother to have no option other than Ayush water from this source. We finished by asking how much difference Sonham would find with a new source; "collecting water is tiring, I would save 5 hours in a day. I would feel very good with you more time and be less tired".

Sonham's last answer, to me, goes to show how water and sanitation education is so important here. The link between minimising and hopefully preventing sickness in her family did not seem to be made with the new source, possibly due to knowing no different but mainly I feel due to a lack of understanding of why the water was making them ill and what could be done to avoid this. We took this as an opportune time to ask Sonham if we could collect water with her and so were led down to the well about a kilometre away.

I wasn't quite expecting what confronted us when we got there. The well itself had a metre tall platform around it which, when stood on top looked down a 5m drop to the water. On the internal walls of the wells were bird and other wildlife as well as vegetation growing up the wall face. To collect water, you have to stand on one of the 6 ledges which precariously overhang the edge of the well and lower down a 15 litre stainless steel container on a rope. So we thought we'd give it a go. To stand on top of the well, you must first remove your shoes and socks - making the platform very slippery to walk on. Whilst doing this, I asked if anyone had ever fallen in - "one women yes".

To enable the media team to get some footage, we proceeded to lower and lift water from the well. Physically this wasn't easy as you have to counterbalance your own weight as well as the 15kg on the rope. After we had filled the containers we all tried to lift the two containers Sonham normally carries back and forth - this was about 35kg, the weight of which seems to ground your feet fixed to a position. The thought of walking a km with it seemed extremely difficult. Yet Sonham seemed to be able to with incredible grace and ease, putting the 3 of us to shame! Whilst down at the well we each shot an interview describing what we had seen that morning.

When I returned to the village I was invited to see the other well which is in use in the village. The second well was even worse. Whilst water is collected in the same manner, the drinking well was surrounded on one side by a small area of grass which had been flooded for a length of time, therefore retaining stagnant water. Just to the side of this area, was where all the animal faeces had been collected and dumped. A very shallow channel around the well is used by the villagers to wash their pots and clothes. The stagnant water in this trough was putrid to smell, with Matthew explaining this would be rife with disease, including Malaria.

As we had a bit more time in the village, I chatted with Asad and some of the villagers about the water quality. Asad explained the water was particularly hard in this area and saline. So far WaterAid and the local partner had carried out situational surveys of the village, the next step was to start promoting WASH (Water And Sanitation Hygiene) awareness and education. The education in its most basic description is to educate the villagers that water stagnation and livestock drinking from the same wells are risks to their water supply and to promote the use of toilets and a composting pit.

I drilled a little deeper with regards to water quality and asked Asad if the water supply had been tested for feacal coliforms. He said it had been and had tested positive. Unfortunately, a field test kit can only provide an indication and not quantifiable analysis, but my opinion would be this would be very high and even higher during the rainy season. The water test kit had been provided by the Government to the village with a person from the village having been trained in how to use it. Once a year a chemical analysis is carried out and twice yearly a bacteriological test. Asad wanted this to be increased to three times a year. This is a far cry from the advanced monitoring and sampling we have in the UK, but the most important thing which struck me was when I realised that they still had to drink this despite the tests results. I therefore asked Asad what happened when this tested positive? Asad explained that once this occurred it would be reported to the Public Health Department to get them to act on it. The other factors which prompt escalation in this way are if the water source is unprotected, if it is next to or exposed to feacal contamination or if there is nearby stagnation. Despite this though, the people of the community will still have to drink it.

WaterAid provide awareness in the village to try to reduce risks through risk assessing each source. The promotion of awareness and education for WASH is a deliberate and effective strategy; "investment in people - that's why government projects are not sustained - they are just investing in hardware, they're interested in the figures". Part of the problem is that the lowest tier of government are completely overwhelmed and therefore not resourced to make lasting change in this way. Asad told me how he had spoken with a health minister about WaterAid. The minister had asked him how many villages do WaterAid work in, he said four to five hundred, and hence asked how many villages in Madhya Pradesh - 1.5 to 2 million.

After a very thought provoking morning we set of for a post-intervention village called Kamhar. I was particularly looking forward to this visit as the post-intervention village we had seen the day before we had arrived at late for so didn't get to see it in the daylight. After another bumpy hour we pulled into the village, where the same amazing welcome was provided. Gathered in the village square, we heard the head of the village Water and Sanitation Committee describe how the project had run for 3 years of which the last year this had been run independently by the committee. The head of the village described how overwhelmed and happy he was that people had come from overseas to see them. He spoke about some pictures which had been displayed to form a timeline on the wall. The pictures showed what the village was like before the intervention, and the transformation afterwards.

Before the intervention there had been rubbish everywhere and no drainage system. The head of the committee explained how this had made dirty water come from the hand pump. He said "gradually people understood what they (WaterAid) were talking about and began to clear up the village by starting to collect rubbish from around the village with a team of volunteers who also disposed of it in a pit". "Children were taken out of the village and taught about sanitation and hand washing.  We also continuously train mechanics, and to have behavioural change, train women and children and youths".

The village can afford to train people now, as each household pays 50 rupee a month into a bank account owned and managed collectively by the Water and Sanitation Committee who's funds are used to further promote and advance water and sanitation in the community. The original well which was used to supply the village would dry up regularly or in the rainy season flood, allowing animals to graze and contaminate the supply. So with investment from the government and guidance from WaterAid to ensure a safe and secure supply, a new hand pump has been installed as well as a borehole drilled which could pump up the hill to a storage tank which would then gravitate
down into the village for an hour a day for the household to be able to draw water from a small external tap. Further interventions included installation of private latrines - 70% of the community now had their own latrine, with the Water and Sanitation Committee continuing to invest, and maybe the most interesting part for me, had built a small dam and spillway on an area of low lying land to produce a small impounding reservoir. This land belonged to a man in the village who had donated it to the community to provide a supply for livestock separate from drinking water and to protect crops from flooding by creating capacity for rainwater storage. Lastly, rainwater harvesting had been installed on every household to allow groundwater recharge.

The benefits to the village were clearly visible. The implementation programme which focuses on water conservation, provision of clean water, water monitoring and building community awareness had allowed the villagers to save time and live with a better standard of sanitation. I was pleased to hear how the community had supported the projects by volunteering their labour for construction in laying pipes and building the dam. Speaking with Matthew he told me how it was expected the village would contribute in this way for two reasons; firstly to reduce costs and secondly, but most importantly, so that they would naturally assume ongoing ownership to become self-sufficient. With the Water and Sanitation Committee now working effectively and having their own funds, ongoing operations and maintenance are paid for and organised by the committee.

I am coming to learn how powerful education can be, but maybe how removed from logic it is if you can never compare what you have to anything else. You could see today just how much the work WaterAid does changes people's lives for the better. The people we have met have been so very generous, but do not seem to have any expectation. They are simply very appreciative people have travelled thousands of miles to see and hear there stories so that this good work can enable these communities to help themselves as well;

"Thank you, Water is life, with water we can work" (boy in Kamhar)

Ps sorry this has been posted a little later than usual - had a few wifi problems

Monday, 18 February 2013

Indian inspiration

Indian Inspiration

So I should probably start by explaining an omission or two. Firstly, my final paragraph of yesterday's blog was wrong - we did not visit the village of Jonhar, that's tomorrow! Also I need to give a very big thank you to my beautiful wife Bex. If it wasn't for her staying upto ring me to ask why I hadn't rung yet given I had promised to when I was due to wake up at half 5 our time, I would not have realised I was over an hour late and probably have missed thebus! It would seem therefore that I begin to fall apart a bit when I've been awake 33 hours straight! The good news was I wasn't the latest. Having missed breakfast we were straighton the mini-bus to set out for Nayagaon.

Along the way, I began to see more and more clear examples of the risks to water security and quality. Hand pumps are the means by which 90% of the population access water sources. These are quite a primitive version of the boreholes we use in the UK but ultimately use the same principle. As the bores are drilled through a hard rock, the first 25m are lined. 
The hand lever then moves a submerged cylinder to feed water up an internal pipe and out of a large tap. The concern I had about what I was seeing along the journey was some of these were either next to stagnant rainwater and sewage, or actually submerged beneath it. I took the opportunity to talk to Asad Umar, WaterAid Indiaprogramme officer, about the risk of contamination here. Asad is great - he has a deep passion about the provision of safe water and sanitation, which, coupled with a PHD inhydro-geology and a warm and friendly smile, means you could tell he is making adifference here. I explained that a hand pump being submerged would almost certainlycause a back-siphon of this water back into the aquifer and that as there were many handpumps in close succession, all could be at risk. He completely agreed, and explained to mehis role in aiding the Government and local districts understanding of the need for drinkingwater security plans which involve lining the bores to mitigate infiltration of nearby watersand to raise the bores higher and cap them to avoid the risk of flooding submitting thesebores.

En route, we took a brief break to visit a local WaterAid partner office. After a quick loo-stop, we were each generously handed a box of sweets each which was the produce of thelocal community. This gave me a further chance to speak with Asad. He explained that90% of Indians water is sourced from groundwater yet irrigation rivals this figure asfarmers can readily access submersible pumps to undertake flood irrigation as opposed tothe more efficient sprinkle irrigation found in the West. The other factor of course here issurface run off which risks rivers becoming contaminated with pesticides. I was surprised how much Asad could describe things such as 'catchment management plans' and 'Water Security Plans' and how similar this was to the UK. Asad described how he met with the Public Health Engineering Department last week and state officials who had approached him and WaterAid to pledge their willingness to keep investing. Money and construction resources are not an issue in India, it is the knowledge of how to make Water and Sanitation Hygiene sustainable so that communities can become self sufficient. It is this which WaterAid deliver. WaterAid attract attention to the most marginalised communities to allow them to "come alive" to the Government so that they invest.

When we arrived at the village of Nayagaon what awaited us was completely unexpected, but deeply humbling. The entire village of around 200 had queued up to greet and welcome us. As we walked into the village the men in our party were asked to queue on the left and ladies on the right. We were then formally greeted by the respective men and women of the village by having our heads marked with red paint and rice with a necklace of colourful flowers put around our necks. At this point the village broke out into celebration with people dancing to drums and music as we were led to the village school. The reception we received felt as if we were celebrities!! Sat around a long table, the entire village sat in theplayground whilst a speech was read from the WaterAid India Regional Manager Matthew, and was met with rapturous applause. In return, our party leader spoke, thanking the village for their hospitality and explaining who we are and how we all fundraise to support thework WaterAid does. As part of our introduction to the villagers we then each marked ashrine to their God followed by signing a banner listing the supporters of WaterAid.

Just before we went off in our groups to spend time in the homes of the villagers, theschool children sang the Indian national anthem for us. The idea of the small groups we were separated into was to allow us to speak openly with the family who lived in the village. The family I visited openly invited us in and brought out their only rug for us to sit on. Their hospitality and generosity immediately struck me as they had dressed in their best clothes yet proceeded to sit on the dirt floor so that we could sit on the rug. We all invitedthem to sit on the rug with us as we felt this was only right in their home.

The family consisted of Ramuchenan, his wife Ramu and 12 year old son Buda. Ramu sat and spoke with us about the hardship she and her son endure every day. The nearest water source is a 1km walk away across hard terrain. They have to visit this 4-5 times a day.When the water dries up however, which it does 7 months of the year, they have to travel to the next nearest source, some 3km walk. Ramu gets up at 4.30am to start cleaning her house before she and her son collect water. Afterwards, Ramu collects firewood in then earest forest, about 5km away. This she collects every other day so that she can sell it onthe days in between. But as it costs 30 rupee to travel to the market and back, and she can only hope to make 150 rupee from the wood, her only concern is survival in terms of nutrition.

As Ramu's house was directly opposite the school, a large crowd had formed immediately around us. I felt at times this made Ramu reserved as often others were jumping in toanswer for her. When I asked her what she thought to the water in that it was contaminated, she simply replied; “we have no choice, just one source. Livestock wash in it and people, it tastes ok but is not clean". I carried on to ask her whether she or anyone else had ever been ill as a result of the water. Interestingly, she responded by saying people get sick and getdisease but it is difficult to tell if this is from the water or elsewhere. Ramu's house wasapprox 6x4m and comprised of a single room to house 4. She spoke openly about hereldest son who was now 20 and worked in Delhi and when asked about her hopes for Buda said she hoped he would reach Second Standard (educated until he was 17). I asked Buda whether he enjoyed school, he responded as any child would "sometimes".

Conscious that the crowd which had gathered around us in front of Ramu's house, weasked if we could see where she collected water from and asked if we could help. We set off down a narrow path which stopped just outside the village, with the next kilometer consisting of very uneven arable land with many protruding rocks and trip hazards. As wewalked down, children and women passed us in the opposite direction carrying 10-20 litresof water balanced on their heads. After we walked the kilometre we made our way down toa mostly dried up stream - this was the moment the extremities of poverty I have so oftenheard of or seen on tv became a reality. The water was immediately downstream of some animals drinking and washing and was so dried up the water seemed what most woulddescribe as a large puddle. In the water, algae and debris were clearly visible. Across the stream from the side we had entered was a semi-structure which had been carved into therock with a small 1m square hole which had been cut out. As a group, the girls and womenof the village then collectively collected water from inside this cavity with the smallest girl clambering several feet in with a small stainless steel bowl which she then poured into a large 6 litre stainless steel bucket. I asked Asad why she was using such a small bowl to fill the bucket, to which be explained it was the only thing which would fit down the small access inside the cavity to the water. Whilst the first girl was filling the first bucket, Ramu, Buda and another girl swirled stones from the river bed in the buckets to clean them before passing the empty buckets forward whilst the full buckets were passed back down the chain to fill even larger 10 and 20 litre stainless steel containers. The whole process was relatively quick and after 5-10 minutes Ramu was stood upright with two 10 litre containers perfectly balanced on her head, lightly being guided by her left hand. Next to her stood Buda with two 5 litre containers balanced on his.

As the other groups followed us down with an increasing number of people massing in the stream bed, we were asked to stand to one side for the media team to grab the very important footage and photography of another family collecting water. As we were now in the way and, given Ramu had what I approximate to be nearly 35kg on her head, we suggested we head back. This instinctively did not feel right to me which, coupled with an eagerness to understand just what it is like to collect water in this way, asked Asad to offer my assistance. Asad spoke to Ramu who in turn gestured for one of the containers on Buda's head to be lifted off and given to me. Asad handed me the container so I could feel how heavy it was and I would guess it was 7-8kg. I was asked if I was okay to carry itwhich I of course answered yes, but said I would like to carry it on my head too. Looking at Ramu, she had a small circular support between her head and the first container. I askedAsad if I could have one and he quickly put a makeshift one together from a scarf. Precariously he placed the container on my head which at first did not feel to heavy. When I looked down and smiled at Buda though I noticed he hadn't such support, with just thecontainers directly on his head.

Now the weight was one thing, but coupled with the mid-day heat, hard, rocky and un even terrain travelling up hill, the weight and strain placed on the neck builds. The difficulty iskeeping it level so that none is spilt. When you have to imagine a child of 12 carrying that weight back and forth as many as 5 times a day, and that when in the summer and the river dries up this journey becomes a 6km round trip - that is when I fully appreciated just how precious water is - every single drop. Sadly though, my personal triumph of being able to say I have experienced collecting water in this way doesn't change its cleanliness or wholesomeness. The water will still be contaminated. The cost of collecting water therefore means Ramu has less time to collect firewood to sell to make money to eat, and Buda spends less time at school. As the water makes them ill from time to time, money is spent on medicine and even more time is lost to either earn a living or gain not education.

Leaving the village of Nayagaon we travelled to Mahatma Gandhi Sewa Ashram to briefly meet another WaterAid local partner who had invited us for tea before visiting apost-intervention village called Mahadev Pura in the Morena District. This certainly seemed to be the theme of the day though - people generously sharing what little they had with us.

We arrived 500m away from the village where we then had to transfer into 4x4s as the rainhad caused the roads to be impassable. When we finally got into the village, we were onceagain greeted like royalty. A similar introduction ensued outside the village school.Various men from the village stood up and spoke about their now self-sufficient village, yet it was a women who was the head of the Women's group who gave an unforgettable speech. Bearing in mind this was being translated, so there was one considerable delay, she spoke about how when 30 WaterAid people arrived in 2004 they did not believe all the talk about water and sanitation. But in time they came to learn and understand what they were being taught and agreed to make the changes. With implementing partner Dharti 3 new hand pumps, 30 toilets and a school sanitation block were installed. She went on to describe how her husband and tried to fill in their toilet but she told him he was a 'crazyperson's. To much laughter she described that she made her husband treat their toilet seatlike a God and that way he should always visit it to go for a shit!

This empowered, clearly very intelligent and charismatic women, showed how a community can unite for a common cause. WaterAid work here was clearly one of education and providing a voice to the most influential members of the community – the women and children. Since the intervention, WaterAid pulled out in 2008 allowing the villagers to become completely self-sufficient through setting up village committees who manage water and sanitation and ongoing maintenance funded through village tariffs. Due to the intervention, people seemed healthier, the land seemed more usable and the village was beginning to prosper.

A truly inspiring day,