Friday, 16 October 2020

Gohana village is a water scarce one and is dependent on a single main source of water- a well that is situated at one end of the village. The water is used for cooking and drinking. The closest source of water is a tube well with a TDS of 4000 ppm which is totally unpalatable – women take this water for all washing. The numerous hand pumps in the village goes dry in summer, the water is discolored and sometimes foul smelling – can never depend on them. Their journey to the well is through the main road from the approach of the village, this takes you through the fields dotted with peacocks, many a chowpal where men socialize, one or two verandas where elderly women are seen engrossed in their conversation, the small hill with the temple at the top, goats and buffaloes returning home, women milking their buffaloes–the walk is a pleasant one for all that it is worth. For all of us who have the luxury of drinking water coming home through a pipe or from a bubble top, the warm breeze on a summer evening still is a new experience. The slope coming down to the well makes it a rather joyous walk.  An easy, one to two kilometer distance is what a woman needs to cover depending on where her house is located. As the sun begins to retire for the day, women of all ages are seen walking down the path to the well carrying their empty pots and ropes. They go in groups as it is also their time to share their own stories – of children, in-laws, friends and husbands.

Take a peep into that large well, and the head swoons and a tingle in your feet warns you of the depth. But for the women in Gohana that well is the center of their life. Women and girls spend time, take turns to draw water using pulleys and ropes. Their able children help them in pulling up the filled buckets of water. They use a cloth to sieve the water to avoid any floating matter. The walk back home with the two to three pots of water on the head is a long and arduous one. The slope of the road now being upward, the warmth generated with each  stride is enhanced by the warmth of the breeze, the sweat breaking out at the temples and nape,  the distance somehow begins to feel longer – home seems farther than it is.

The women in Rajasthan wear their goongats, the veil, in respect to the elders and most often their entire face is fully covered and their colourful attire makes them stand out in the otherwise stark landscape—their walk with well-balanced pots on their heads has become a part of the landscape. These water carriers make nice wall paintings both outside their houses and in the temples, an iconic statement of good omen, carved into the social fabric, none of them really talk about the pain in the neck and shoulders that women may experience. Or do they even complain of it – for every homemaker, bringing water home is a given thing, not a choice. Starting at tender years this role of the water carrier —an unpaid and unrecognized job, is a lifetime position.  This effort is a daily experience for women in many parts of rural India, the distance covered in their steady stride back and forth a couple of kilometers from home each time, spending a minimum of an hour on this work each day. If women were to walk this distance everyday say for 50 years of their life, they would have covered a distance that can go around the earth at least one time in their life by foot –All for water.

One question that comes to my mind is, how is Sarvajal making things easier for women with our water ATMs?  The ATM is located closer to the village in comparison to the well which is located in an isolated place. The place is more accessible and is in a compound and women can feel safe there. Women can go even after the sun is down as it is well lit both by the lights on the road and the lights at the ATM.  A CCTV camera installed by the Panchayat in the vicinity of ATM is an added protection. Women’s distance may not be shorter but they definitely do not have to tug at the pulley to get the water they need – saves them the energy and physical effort. If you spend some time at our ATM you will notice that a lot more men are the ones who carry water from the ATM than women –we don’t know if it is because one has to use a card that showcases the man as tech savvy.  Is it because carrying water in a bubble top or a camper on a bike or a scooter is seen as a masculine thing to do and seems to be more acceptable in the space of men. Or maybe men have genuinely crossed the stereotypes and barriers that prevented them from carrying water home and are happy being considered helping their women folk at home.  Whatever it may be, this role of fetching-water-home behavior displayed by men has given the women a break from bringing water home.  It is a gender bender of sorts – a welcome change from the perspective of a woman—Small changes on our road to the larger gender-inclusive vision for the country.  We may have to wait to see if it really is a gender bender! Maybe a day will come when the painting on the wall in Gohana has men carrying water on their bikes. For now, I am happy that there is a beginning to a positive change towards alleviating the burden on women. 


Thursday, 15 October 2020

Village Bhinay, Ajmer district in Rajasthan, recently had the inauguration of ‘Safe drinking water Unit’ - the Jal Jeevan project supported by the CSR from Indus Ind Bank and implemented by Piramal Sarvajal.  

Bhinay village is a great example of women leadership, especially in all the key position required for the rural development.  The Village  Pradhan is  Sushri( Ms) Anu Sharma, Smt .Uma Varma is the Sarpanch of the Village,  Smt. Gita Mali is the Deputy Sarpanch , Smt. Sanju Meena  is SDM of Bhinay , Smt. Sonu Gupta is Revenue Officer ,  Smt. Seema  Goud is the Village Development Officer and Smt. Tinu Jha is the School Principal of the Government School. While elected representative like Smt .Uma Varma, Sarpanch started out just to fulfill the aspiration of Subhash Varma her spouse, when she shouldered the responsibility alongside an active partner, she began to represent social issues that affect women and started taking the lead in influencing the community to support local causes.  Women leadership was not limited to the elected position; it was also heartening to see the key multiple positions required for decision making was also being headed by women.

In the inauguration women from Bhinay in positions such as SDM and Revenue Officer, used their public speaking skills to articulate their interest in the Safe drinking water project, their financial acumen to explain the sustainability of such community based solutions, their knowledge of budget to encourage people especially the women to look at the affordability of the solution. Smt. Sanju Meena SDM compared the price of Rs 20 a can to Rs.6 from Jal Jeevan and asked women to use the facility which is an asset to Bhinay. Women in power are also the women who care for their own family, when they tasted the water and had the first hand feeling of the quality of the water from the ATM; they were able to compare it with the water they consume at their own homes. They then advocated for the good quality of water to the people who have gathered for the launch and encouraged people to take water from the Unit. 

The entire panel of women leaders on the stage of the launch on November 23, 2019   is in a political space that was largely a bastion of men.  Sarvajal team was pleasantly surprised at the presence of women in decisive leadership position and acknowledges this as an enabling recipe for addressing women centric issues as crucial as safe drinking water.  Daulat Ram, our community awareness executive shared “we have been to many launches across the country in the last 6 years, but it is the first time that we have seen such large presence of women leaders in one village – and it is great for our cause”

Sarvajal salutes this era of leadership of women in this village and look forward to their support in  taking  forward Jal Jeevan  project and Sarvajal’s vision of  ‘Water for All at affordable price’!  

Friday, 9 October 2020

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water – WH Auden

A District with Need - Mewat of Haryana

With the mission to find the right school to create access to safe drinking water for children, the Sarvajal team set out with an open mind. The secondary data search took the team to the district of Mewat in Haryana. Apportioned as a separate district from Gurgaon in 2005, Mewat had alarmingly low indicators of education, health, standard of living, public infrastructure and services.

Being a the semi-arid region with highly saline groundwater, there is an acute drinking water shortage in the villages in Mewat, to the extent that they are dependent on the neighbouring villages for water. The district also grapples with an unhygienic environment and appalling living conditions. This, together with minimal health infrastructure, further weighs down on its population’s health.      

In comparison to the rest of Haryana, Mewat’s sex ratio indicated a favourable trend in the last census, but in contrast to it, the literacy rate among females is far lower than that of the males in the same district. The conservative families of the region preferred to bestow an edge to their male children by sending them off to other districts or private schools for education. As usual, a girl child is often burdened with household chores or married early and may not get to see the lights of a classroom. A study commissioned by Niti Aayog also cited the ‘burden of fetching water for the family’ as one of the reasons for girls dropping out of school. This sets the vicious cycle of a girl’s life, in motion. Only girl children who are fortunate enough would find their way to a government school. Given this, odds are that we still would find more girl children in a Government Primary School than boys.

All that was not right in the district of Mewat made it just the right choice for a Sarvajal intervention – the school that was selected as the Government Primary School in Nagina.  

About the Government Primary School in Nagina

Located in Nagina, one of the 5 blocks of Mewat, the school was established in 1964. The school has 830 students, 23 classrooms, 18 teachers (in the place of 32) and 8 cooks to take care of the noon meal scheme.  A broad range of issues prevents the school from thriving — the infrastructure, dilapidated toilets, furniture that needed fixing and more. The school had just the bare minimum – the head master’s room is a witness to it.

But the greatest of the hazards to the health of the children was the large dumping ground in front of the school - stagnant water from sewages modelled a home to many a pig family. Swarms of houseflies that enveloped everything around could send a chill down any unsuspecting visitor’s spine. It reminds you of the hard task that rests squarely on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan with our Prime Minister as the key champion. It also reminds you of the indifference that plagues our society – the resultant inaction.   

The water sources are two, a tube well with 2000 ppm TDS and water from supply stored in a reservoir. When these were not enough school bought tanks of water. The school did not have enough assistance to buy water all the time.

Arun from VI standard has a great smile but dental fluorosis has already made his teeth opaque with a brown stain, a sign of degeneration of teeth. His father works as a peon in the bank, he lives in a joint family and has around 14 members in it. He does not bring water from home but he drinks many times from the newly installed water facility with purification plant since his class is the closest to the water spout. Many children in the school have opaque teeth like his, though it is not reversible, further erosion can be prevented if they avoid water with high fluoride. 

Sarvajal through a CSR partnership with Dr. Lal Path Lab established a 500 LPH purification plant at this school on April 26 2018. The water is purified with RO and UV/UF technology and made available for children to drink through the day.  

Girl’s education and water

The students belong to an underprivileged migrant community that earns a living as farm labourers.  While female literacy is only 27% in Nagina, the fact that the school has 436 girls to 394 boys made the Sarvajal’s team hopeful.  One of the women teachers confirmed that throughout Mewat this would be the norm- as boys get to go to private schools and the girls’ enrollment in government primary school would be higher. Girls would be taken off the school as soon as they have siblings to take care.  The double standards for girls and boys very visible and shocking but the team’s resolve to work in that school strengthened.

Ganga in class fourth brings her little brother who is two and half years old with her to school, her mom works in the field, the little one would get noon meals ( a generous portion of Kichri ) and water carefully fed by his sister – the school would allow that, if not the parents may withdraw her from school.

Rinku in the same class comes from a large family of 14 people, her father and his brothers live in the same house. She has 3 brothers, who go to a private school Arya Samaj School in Nagina.   She lives far away from the school and has to walk for an hour to get to school. She brings water in the blue bottle and fills it twice in the day. She smiled a shy smile when she told she wanted to be a teacher.

With the focus of the child picking up the beached starfishes and throwing them into the sea one by one to make a difference to that particular starfish, Sarvajal saw an opportunity to serve safe drinking water to the girls studying in the government school.

The school turns the inauguration of the Sarvajal plant into an advocacy platform

The school has been struggling to ensure that it receives prominence in the eyes of the government to attract financial support to keep it functional. The Headmaster, Mr. Hari Chand invited the key stakeholders the community leaders, Block Education Officer and Pachayat leaders for the inauguration, to advocate for the different needs of the school.  The Headmaster said, “Today we have pure drinking water from Piramal Sarvajal through their CSR partner and we are positive that it will improve the lives for children, I am looking forward for support from all of you to improve the school.”

He articulated the benefit “To know there is an unrestricted supply of safe drinking water at the school will help the school gain recognition in the eye of the community. If the parents know the children will get safe drinking water round the clock we will be able to retain children in the school.”

Dinesh, a teacher who has been with the school for the last one and half years said “From a school strength of 717 last year17-18, it has risen to 830 this academic year, this school is located at the centre of the village and news spreads fast, that there is an arrangement for purified drinking water – parents have gained confidence in school. Blessed be those who made the decision to put the water purification unit in this school.   

The Children We Serve

Generally, children of primary school age need at least 3-4 glasses of water during the day with the number going higher in summers when the temperature is at its peak. The scorching sun seldom deters the spirited young children from running around in rigorous catch-me-if-you-can-games during lunch break. Bare feet and hot sand don’t matter at all.  This is all the more reason to situate drinking water at a convenient, easy-to-run-to and safe location. The ease has to be from an access point of view that encourages these young sun-braving hearts to drink regularly. With the safety highlight, the water needs to lure them in taste and motivate them to return to it many times a day – it truly sounds like a mother’s job. “Paani peethe rahna beta – dhoop tej hai”

Even running in groups from one building to another aimlessly pulling at each other and huddling together at the end of the run seems to be so much fun. Oblivious to sweat gleaming on the temples, and trickling down the nape, the drying lips and the parching throats, they are engrossed in play. Soon the little body start sending signals to run to a water spout – Sarvajal’s safely housed purification plant and the water dispensed at the right height for children welcomes them. The sight of children in a row cupping their palms to drink from the flowing stream of water  from the tap, with steady gulping sounds, with an ‘ah!’ that puts a satisfying end to that perfect drink, wiping the lingering water from their faces with the back of their little hands, is heartening. The water quenches their thirst and their wet palm cools their face. The satiated look on the face of these little ones is precisely why Sarvajal is here.

While this plant is located in the primary section of the school, the opportunity to serve is doubled since the premises also houses higher secondary school which has around 250 students the tbenefit of access of safe drinking water also can be utilized by these adolescent girls.

Water Champions

Mrs. Alka, Teacher of class two added “Children bring two bottles each day in summers, heavy on their backs – and as you see it is hot and sultry – two bottles are over in no time, children are thirsty soon and in this heat they get tired fast and they are not attentive. With the water plant in the premises, children need to bring just one bottle and refill it through the day during the breaks.’’

The community awareness team visits this school once a month and works with the children to help them understand why they need to drink safe water, drink more water and how water can help them become smarter. This also includes early lessons of self-discipline by way of helping the children go in a line to take water and to get back to class as soon as it is done. They are also encouraged to take water in their bottle when they return home. Through variety of participatory methodology like singing, dancing, drawing and drama with simple messages, the team engages the children.

Every child has been given a blue bottle, so that they will continue to have water in the class room and there is more time in the class to learn new things.

Many a reason to keep a child from school, water should never be one!

When private schools that distinguishes between the world of haves and have-nots, Government schools hold the safety net for every child who has already fallen through the sieves of privilege and fortune. While the opportunity to serve girls resonates at the hearts, not to forget are the boys who are here due to social and economic situations of their parents. Among those girls and boys are many who have stunted growth due to nutritional deficiencies, many living with conditions attributed at birth and many differentially abled- the school with its minimum facilities have welcomed them and are providing them education.

Safe water can keep them in good health, prevent them from falling ill with waterborne illness, help children achieve some of their developmental milestones, continue to study and  rise above their  current predicament – support them to have a dream and pursue it.