Saturday, 23 February 2013

Arjun Nagar - Caroline

After this morning's experiences at Shiv Nagar we were all a little unsure what to expect - could WaterAid really have made a substantial difference to families living in this extreme poverty on such a scale? We needn't have doubted for a second - WaterAid have absolutely made a difference here in a visible and tangible way.

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.

Caroline x

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