Sunday, 10 March 2013
It is a country of stark contrasts - poverty vs riches, colour vs dark places and opportunity vs despair...and these things were abundantly apparent in a lot of the places that we visited. It strikes me as so unfair that these disparities still exist within countries in 2013. A number of people have questioned the need for WaterAid to work in India as the country has the means within its own government to help their own people - I completely understand this point of view but equally I have seen the faces of the people that this would disadvantage. These people are not statistics they are faces in my mind and ones that deserve the basic human right of access to clean water and sanitation. And WaterAid are working at this problem from both sides - they are supporting these vulnerable communities at the same time as lobbying government and leveraging funds from them to support their work.
The work of WaterAid is nothing short of amazing - it isn't about the taps and the toilets (although obviously these are great!) it is about the opportunity and freedoms that access to clean water provides. It is about the freedom from illness, the reinstatement of dignity, the time that the communities can invest differently, the education that this brings and the empowerment of the communities to build their futures together.
India took me through a massive range of emotions, some of which I am still working through but I came home with an overwhelming sense of pride - pride that I was lucky enough to experience the work of WaterAid first hand, pride that this fantastic charity was borne out of the industry in which I work and enormous pride in all those people out there that support WaterAid.
The thing I will take forward from this experience is the families we met and their stories - their dignity in their day to day struggle for survival, and the overwhelming drive of particularly the women to change their children's lives. Water is the turnkey to that - it really is as simple as that.
WaterAid changes lives, and that cannot be underestimated.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my experiences, and as I have done learned a lot about the work of WaterAid....thank you for reading, and I hope that our journey has been as informative and inspiring for you as it has been for us.....
Saturday, 2 March 2013
As we drive through a traffic on a busy Friday morning, past shops and banks and people's homes we take a sharp left and we are suddenly in the a large open space covered in litter. We drive about 100m and then we are at the entrance of the slum. We get put into groups and then lead to a family's house. The slum has been here for 40 years but is unauthorised so no one has been able to build a proper home, just corrigated iron shacks. We meet Raj Kumari and her friends who all live in the same section of the slum. They tell us there are pipes that bring water once a day for an hour.1 pipe for each row of the slum that is between 32 and 40 households. The pipes don't have taps, they are open so when the water does get switched on, if no one is there to collect it the water just runs away. I can also see that the water pipe runs through the open drain which is full of rubbish and waste and dirty water. The pipes are broken in some places and the dirty water can get into the clean water supply which the people in the slum have to drink. I ask them where they go to the toilet. they all look over my shoulder and point to a road about 200m away. 'There' they say 'on the side of the road'. They tell us in the day they are scared of snakes and insects, that they are embarrassed as people can see them. At night the women and children are scared of being attacked by men.
Most of the children in the slum go to Government schools and most of the adults work. The men are labourers and the women work as cleaners for the rich people in the houses near by. I ask the women if they are allowed to have a drink of water or use the toilet whilst they work in the houses. They say no. they aren't allowed at all.
Life in the slum seems to be a battle. In the summer the water dries up and they are meant to get water delivered by tanker, it very rarely comes. In this case they have to walk 2k across the city to the nearest water tap. In the rainy season the open sewers fill up and flood people's houses. Also when it rains the children slip and fall into the drains and the road where people go to the toilet also floods and the water carries all the human waste back to the slum where it gets into people's houses and covers the clean water pipes. The people in the slum know how unsafe it is to drink the water they are given and they know it is unhygienic to openly defecate. But they have no choice. This is no way to live!
As we walk around the slum we are watching the women collect water, the drains the pipe runs through smells and you can see how dirty it is even from a distance. We see one woman with 4 empty buckets and one half full. She tells us the water has been turned off and she hasn't had time to collect enough water for her family that day. She either has to wait until tomorrow or walk 2k to the nearest water point.
As we walked out of the slum we noticed a JCB and a truck digging out the septic waste from one of the open drains which run round the slum like a moat. The people in the slum are all looking on amazed. The 'corporation' have never been here before, they have never tried to clean up before, they have never listened to the people in the slum. The woman who is running to be the local leader has also arrived. It is amazing to think that just our presence has encouraged the people local authority to turn up and do something. It seems to be just a show though and as we leave we are all pretty sure that the JCBs and the trucks will pack up and leave as well pretty soon....
In the afternoon we go to a slum called Agunara. the people in this slum have been helped by WaterAid and their partners. We are welcomed to this village with songs and smiles. We go to Shanti Gupda's house a concrete building with a kitchen, bathroom, toilet, living room and 2 bedrooms. We also meet her two beautiful daughters Moni, 20 and Rinki 17. They tell us they are studying at collage and Rinki tells us she wants to be a nurse. The intervention in their slum started in 2009. Before they had no real water supply and they all openly defecated. This made them feel scared and embarrassed but they had no other choice. Now, the slum has numerous water supply pipes and they all say they have plenty of water. All of the houses also have toilets so they never have to worry about privacy or safety. They tell us their health is now much better and they spend all their free time studying. Previously it had taken 3 - 4 hours a day to collect water. Now they don't have to do this they are happy. This slum has been authorised for 30 years, this has given the people some security so they have built solid homes and have an electricity supply. This place is so different to the slum we saw this morning. this place is more like an urban village than a slum, it is so clean and there is no smell.
Visiting this slum has given me hope that WaterAid will also be able to help the slum we visited this morning. I would love to go back in 5 years time and see the difference, the pople will be happy, healthy and clean. They will be safer and they will have their dignity back.
So that was our last day.
Off home to the UK now.... bye India!! What a week! I will never forget and I will work hard to raise awareness for WaterAid so they can help more people, and save more people's lives.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
Immediately as we entered the area there was a happiness and engagement about the place - people were proud of the area in which they lived and were actively seeking us to enter their homes and see the improvements they had made.
Shanti Gupta was a lady who warmly welcomed us into her home and her life. She has two sons who were both away at the time and two beautiful daughters - Moni (20) and Rinki (18). The whole family was talkative and enthused about the work that WaterAid had helped them do over the recent years.
Before the intervention by WaterAid there was widespread open defecation, water was scarce and had to be collected from much further away meaning 3-4 hours per day were dedicated to this single task. Worse than this, disease was rife - there wasn't a time when one or the other of the children was not sick. The stagnant water around the settlement due to poor drainage attracted Mosquitos, which in turn spread malaria through the population rampantly.
But now that has all changed - WaterAid helped the community to mobilise themselves with the help of their Corporator, Laxmi. She herself was so proud of what the village had achieved and welcomed us warmly and openly to share their story. It was not a quick journey - it has taken nearly 4 years to get there. But they are here now and that is amazing.
Moni and Rinki were both charming young women who had been given a number of things by the introduction of water and sanitation to their village. Firstly it gave them dignity - as we have heard all too often this week the lack of sanitation causes women to have no dignity in their day to day existence. This is especially hard on young women as they reach adolescence and begin menstruation. Now Moni and Rinki are not concerned about this and it becomes almost a non event in their day to day lives - exactly what it should be. Secondly it gives them time - time is a precious gift for them to use exactly how they choose - and something that gives them the control over their futures which they were sadly lacking. And boy have they used their time wisely. Moni is now a commerce student at the local college doing a PG Diploma in Computer Applications and when she finishes her course this year is hopeful of securing a related job. She also has done a beauty course and earns extra work using her skills in some of the communities around the local area. Rinki is studying science at college and is hoping to become a nurse - she proudly shows us the room that she studies in, with books piled high to the ceiling and we know that she will be successful in what she aims for.
So water and sanitation do not just keep people from getting sick - they allow the families to dream and work towards a better life. Education is the key for people to make their aspirations a reality - be that the education of villagers for the need for sanitation, of local government as to their responsibilities, of children to ensure sustainability and of us so we can spread the word.
That's it in terms of visits - we are very sad to have come to the end of the programme and be returning to the UK, but we do so educated as to what the reality of living without water and sanitation is like and what a powerful force WaterAid can be in changing people's futures.
I will no doubt reflect on my time in India over the coming days, and am likely to post more as I do so so please check back - the things we have seen in the last week have been eye opening, scary & shocking and it will likely take us while to process this information. One thing I can tell you now for sure though is that WaterAid do a very good thing and I for one am immensely proud to be involved with such an organisation.
We set off from the hotel and drove through Bhopal, past the largest lake in asia (so we were told) and out of the city to the rural village of Amrod. As we got off the coach the smell of sweet insense drifted towards us. We had a lovely welcome in the communal meeting area for the village. We were given gifts of coconuts which are symbols of warmth and love. In Amrod the government were providing the hardware to build toilets but WaterAid and its partners worked with the village for three months to educate them about the need for toilets in the first place. They then helped get a committee together which applied to the government for support under the total sanitation scheme. They also have an aspriational 5 year plan for the village. The final push for the village to become open defication free was from a man in the village who heard of a woman in a nearby village being attacked whilst going to the loo outside. This was the final motivation for him to start building a toilet so he could keep his family safe. After 2 months of building 75 our of 84 households now have toilets.
I spent some time with a family and helped them to build their latrine. It was amazing! I mixed cement and laid some bricks! Prabhu lala and his family used to think there waa not enough space for a toilet, maybe it would be too expensive for them and that an indoor toilet waa unhygienice. Since WaterAid started their work all of these myths have been put to rest and the family are now thrilled to be building their own family toilet. The family was happy they were getting a toilet as it would save them time, which they could use to work. And it would mean safety and dignity for the women.
The family were so welcoming and kind. They really let us slip into family routine. They were proud of what they were doing together as a family. We even got asked to stay for a night! Their kindness and generosity, the fact they were willing to share what little they had with us, their smiles and they way they accommidated us really touched my heart and as i shared photos of my family with Soram bai, the mother, i got a bit choked up! It was such a wonderful morning.
In the afternoon we visited a secondary school in a village called Padli. In this school WaterAid had worked with the children to help them understand the need for toilets. Previously the villagers had used the school playground as the open defication zone which ment the children could not use the space, and even some of the classrooms because the smell was so bad. Once the children understood the need for sanitation.and hygiene they started telling their parents, asking them to build toilets. They also got up early for school and played games outside so people wouldnt go to the toilet there. They had whistles and would blow them is they saw anyone openly deficating. The children said they used to get told off and people would complain to their parents. But they continued to do it knowing it was the right thing to do. 3 monthd later the village, is open defication free and the children are thrilled! They are so proud. as they showed us round their school they were telling us of their aspirations to be teachers so they could teach the whole'm of India to read. We played games in the play ground which had previously been unusable. All the children were so happy and healthy. As they said their evening prayer things settled down and we left the village.
Today was an inspiring day for me. The impact of WaterAid's work was so obvious. simple things that we dont think about like safety and dignity when going to the toilet, having safe water to drink that is available all year round. These are things people in India dont have, and dont know they deserve. WaterAid empowers them and gives them the cofidence to ask for the things they need.
We had a small lie in today, up at 7 not 5.30! We left Gwalior by train and headed to Bhopal.
On the train we had lunch and drinks provided by 'meals on wheels'. I tried to explain to Sharesh, one of the WaterAid India guys what meals on wheels were in the uk...i think something was lost in translation!
As we chugged south there was the odd palm tree in the middle of a field of grain and we knew it would be hot when we got to our destination.
After 5 hours we pulled into Bhopal station. We where whisked off to the Amer Hotel and as we zoomed through the streets I could instantly tell this was a different kind of city to Gwalior. 2 million people live in Bhopal, it was busy! There was rubbish everywhere and cows eating from skips full of waste. There were people washing in the green/grey river as plastic and other debris floated past which had tumbled down from the river bank.
After a day of travelling we were meeting WaterAid partners and officials from local Government to talk about water and sanitation issues. We heard from some of WaterAid India's partners about their work. The aim is to empower the people they work with so they can get what they deserve. They want to mobilise communities to take advantage of government schemes like the total sanitation scheme and the piped water scheme. It was confirmed that India does have the money and resourses but it doesn't do the implimentation very well or the after care to make sure pumps and toilets actually work! WaterAid and its partners work with communities on behavioural change and soft skills rather than hardware, they leave a lots of that to the government. WaterAid train the people to be able to maintain the infrastructure and creat committees which collect water bills so they can look after the supplies into.the future. This makes the work sustainable because people take ownership of their situation. People motivated and committed, thats what makes WaterAid's projects sustainable.
But what I have to say is that whole heartedly the whole group embraced the opportunity that we had been given and understood that the work of WaterAid is so vital in these areas that our visit would have been poorer for not making the time to go there, no matter how hard it was.
Shiv Nagar is an unauthorised slum so it has not been sanctioned by the local government and therefore faces demolition at any point. However it has been in existence for 40 years so it is well established, and huge - I mean 15,000 people live here - that isn't even on the same scale of the other settlements we have visited this week - it stretches as far as the eye can see as we drive across the scrub land towards it. What also draws our attention are the drainage ditches that criss cross the scrub land that carry the waste from the slum - these are massive open sewers that reek with the scepticity of their contents.
Walking into the slums I am once again hit by the gracious, honest faces that meet me - these are people who are simply trying to do their best for themselves and their families with their meagre resources and immediately my fear disintegrates.
We meet Rajkurami and Bhagwan who have raised three sons here in the slums and they tell us about their day to day life. It is hard - there is no other way to describe it. Rajkurami works as a maid at various houses which could be up to 10km away - she cleans three house twice a day and she will earn approximately 1500 rupees per month for her trouble. That's about £18. To put it into context she will have to spend 1200 rupees a month on firewood alone before thinking about food. This means she can't afford medicine when her or her children get sick, and the medical care they can get is very elitist - they wonder whether they aren't actually given the right medicine anyway.
The whole group are very mistrustful of the authorities - for which I cannot blame them as they come every 4 months or so and clear all of their possessions out of the houses and leave them with nothing. This is just to reassert the fact that the slum is unauthorised.
In terms of water supply, there is some but the tap only works for one hour per day and the pressure isn't high enough often to be able to fill their containers. We later met a lady who had half a container of water - she needs six for her family but the tap has been turned off for the day - she will now have to walk 2 km to the nearest settlement to get water. This happens on about 50% of days.
The most shocking thing though that I saw in the slums was the water pipe running directly through the open sewer - it runs in the same ditch. The pipe leaks so the raw sewage is getting into the water. The families however have no alternative source and have to drink it. The reality of this is really brought home when I meet Kurylinjl and his beautiful granddaughter Pari - his son, her Dad died of a water bourne illness last year. She is fatherless because of the conditions that they live in. That breaks my heart as it is preventable.
The people of the slums are honest, dignified and simply thoroughly downtrodden by the society in which they live - they see no route out of this level of poverty and shocking things to you or I are simply everyday life to them. People shouldn't live like this - it is that simple, or at least it is in my head.
I am however thrown a curved ball when we return back to the group. Whilst we had been meeting our families (and in our case learning to make roti!) the Corporater (local councillor) had learned of our visit and had arrived herself but not only that had brought diggers and wagons to clean out the drainage ditches. We wonder how long they will stay after we have gone and whether they really are committed to the change that they say. The thing about WaterAid though is that they will use their skills to leverage local councillors to make change - at present the situation looks bleak but they are only at the very beginning of this process - to a group of frustrated and angry WaterAid supporters they make the point that they cannot do anything without the Corporater's permission - they have to educate the people to organise themselves and understand the importance of water and sanitation and also work from the top down to change the rhetoric within local government. It leaves me feeling angry that people in positions of power are not taking responsibility but I understand that it is an iterative process that will take time - WaterAid though is so vital in ensuring this process happens and stays on track.
The village was using 100% open defecation and surprisingly and alarmingly the main site that was used was the area around the local village school. The stench was so bad that the children were not able to eat their lunches some days and they certainly could not play openly outside - this shocked me greatly as the villagers that were doing this were the same villagers who were the parents of these beautiful children. Those that did not defecate near the school walked for about 2km to use a road side which is both dangerous and a matter of dignity for these women who traditionally should keep themselves and their faces covered from men at all times.
What struck me about this village that hadn't come through strongly to me before was the power of the children as a force for good and a conduit for change. WaterAid began working with the village in July 2012 and using the children as leverage pulled the community together to build a better future for themselves.
These brave beautiful children stood up to the adults in their community by literally whistle blowing on people who were spotted openly defecating near their school. They blew their whistles loudly and proudly until the people stopped. They formed themselves into teams and would also be at school in the very early morning (4 or 5am) to ensure the villagers were not using the area under of cover of darkness either. To take responsibility at such a young age - we are not talking about teenagers here, we are talking children as young as 6 or 7 - and not only that but to challenge and educate adults has to be seen to be believed. It took them 3 months to stop the practice completely in the village and to construct latrines in every household.
These children are bright, happy and healthy because of the work that WaterAid has facilitated in their village. But WaterAid didn't make the change, the village children did - WaterAid simply gave them a voice and a mechanism to make the change.
As the children proudly told us about the school Government (including Prime Minister, Water & Sanitation Minister, Education Minister and Games & Culture Minister) they share their hopes and aspirations for the future with us. And their dreams are tangible and achievable - they all want to stay in education and they all dream of jobs such as teachers or doctors, and talking to them you truly believe that it is within their grasp.
And the best was yet to come! After a tour of their school, the floor was opened up for games! And while the boys started an India Vs England cricket match - hardly the next Test Series, but no one cared - the smaller children introduced us to a game that seemed to be a firm favourite! Now I'm now exactly sure what it was, and indeed before we started I didn't know the rules! But it seemed to go a little like this....everyone starts in a large circle and gradually we start running round, we chant a song as we go and then the teacher calls a number. You have to get into groups of that number and any odd people out are out of the game....this continues until you only have one group left! This was all fine until the point that we realised that every single village child wanted to play and so the game went on for a very long time....aand also every single one of them wanted a WaterAid person in their group - imagine being rugby tackled by about 15 small children at once and you'll be getting somewhere near! Add to this the running in the 30 degree heat and we were well and truly tired out! Erica's team was victorious, but the children were all so happy no one really minded if they won or lost!
So the day was really one of contrasts but one that we all thoroughly enjoyed and will treasure for a long time to come....
Also a quick apology for lack of photos a) I was too busy playing games and b) my camera was playing up! I am assured though we have lots to share with you but technology is slightly against us at this point, so watch this space!