The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) and Piramal Sarvajal collaborated with Akshaypatra and Jaipur Zila Parishad to address the drinking water problem in 15 government schools in the Chaksu and Sanganer blocks of Jaipur District in August 2013. Whilst access to safe drinking water had been an increasing concern over the past decade for most of the state of Rajasthan, this particular belt had seen extremely high levels of fluoride leading to acute cases of fluorosis amongst the residents. The 12 primary schools that have been part of this project are all set remotely and 3 of the 12 schools do not have access to electricity.
You, like me, might be saying to yourself, “Whaaaat?! A state public school without access to electricity?” If you grew up in the West, like me, there’s nothing like that tidbit to humble you with your own privilege, huh? Well, brace yourself, many of these schools did not previously have any water source at all. That means that elementary school kids would pack off to school in the morning on a hot Indian day with the only access to drinking water being what they could carry with them from whatever source was available at home. Even in late October the Rajasthan sun left midday temperatures at around 102°F/39°C and I was guzzling water just to get through the morning. I couldn’t imagine how these little kids would have been able to stand it. Or how it could have been healthy.
Luckily Sarvajal and MSDF stepped in to provide clean drinking water solutions. They installed Water ATMs in the 15 schools so that the kids could drink clean water all day. A local operator would come by once per day to fill the ATMs up from water that had been purified in a centrally located plant and kids could access the free, safe water with the push of a button. In fact, the entire operating cost of this project is offset by water sales in the nearby town, making this an entirely sustainable venture! I was really struck by the power of social entrepreneurship to make development projects viably sustainable long term... but that’s a topic for a later discussion!
|Sarvajal Delivery Vehicle in a school|
|Sarvajal WaterATM in school|
We distributed the drawing and learning materials before Pawan launched into an animated program, tailored to the kids’ ages, about the importance of safe drinking water. Meanwhile Ashutosh managed the drawing competition for the older kids – “draw something that about the importance water in your life.” Even though these kids already have access to safe water through Sarvajal, the hope is that they will grow up understanding the health benefits of this access and continue to prioritize it for their families. They might even influence their parents into securing a clean water source for their households. I just imagine little waves of health benefits and smart choices rippling out from Sarvajal’s touch point in these kids’ lives.
|Awareness Campaign in school with Pawan, the showman|
After watching both him and Ashutosh wrap up their programs, giving out awards to the winner’s of the most innovative and creative drawings and then thanking the teachers profusely, we pile back into the car. Down the dusty one lane roads we ramble. The infrastructure is really poor out here – the potholes sent me flying across the backseat and several times we had to drive off the narrow one lane road in face of oncoming carts or cow herds. It’s no wonder that the location of these remote villages in the vast, dusty desert makes it a supreme challenge for the government to manage basic services without Sarvajal’s remote monitoring technology.
Thoroughly jangled, I extracted myself from the backseat 30 minutes later at the next school. This one was much smaller and not as (relatively) affluent. Still, it was tidy and the kids were eager to learn. So Pawan and Ashutosh launched back into their schpiel to the delight of a fresh audience.
The Water ATM at this school is a ring structure model. I loved seeing the little adjustments, like the stairs, that had been made for the children to access the water. One little girl was so proud of herself for filling a used soda bottle almost bigger than herself, standing on tippytoe to do so!
|Sarvajal WaterATM and a little girl|
|Happy school teachers with WaterATM|
|A little girl with her drawing. She associated Sarvajal with healthy water!|
|Pawan and Ashutosh with WaterATM|
|Alessandra in this field trip|