Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Jonhar - Caroline

Well, we thought the road was bumpy yesterday but that just pales into insignificance to today! Apparently the construction company have fallen out with the government so work has stopped. One small problem - they had already stripped the whole 50km down to hardcore therefore we are now in pothole hell! And lord knows how you are supposed to know which carriageway you are driving on!

Anyway back to more important things! Our first village today was Jonhar which is the largest of the villages we have seen so far. We were beautifully welcomed as always, presented with flower garlands and blessed by having a red spot marked on our foreheads - a traditional Hindu greeting.

When we began to talk to the villagers it was largely the women that came forward - that is fundamentally because water is seen as the role of the women and it is them that it affects the most. They fetch the water, they prepare the food with the water, they walk for miles to deficate so that men do not see them. The gender divide is well and truly in existence in India and so we see why it is so fundamental to the success of WaterAids projects that they form a women's group where they can talk openly about their water needs.

This village has no protected water source - the one they do have is a well, but this is not protected from cattle or waste dumping which can infiltrate the supply. It is also greatly affected by the seasons - both the levels of water available and the quality of the supply. Most villagers suffer from typhoid every rainy season here due to the water supply.

We spoke in detail to Awadh who was very vocal in the earlier meetings in terms of the need for not only water, but has aspirations for a piped supply to each home. They are very mistrustful of hand pumps as the government installed one a number of years ago but due to lack of maintenance it now no longer works.

Awadh has 4 sons and recognising the importance of education, two are now teachers, one is in college and the fourth is still in school. She is lucky as although she doesn't have water and sanitation she has land on which the family grows mustard, wheat and grains as well as farming buffalo for the milk.

However as we continue our conversation with her the worrying thing that she tells us that when she collects the water from the well she is getting chest pains which indicates the strain that her body is under. She is 50 years old and should not be experiencing this. What also catches our attention is that her daughter in law Sangeeta, who lives in the same house, is pregnant. She is due in June, which is just before the rainy season when typhoid will be rife in this village so we hope she will be one of the lucky ones.

Awadh was generous with her time and showed us the well and how they fill the vessels with water - there is a real skill to it - at present you have to lower the vessel about 20 feet, but later in the year it will be double that as the well levels drop.

Our eye was caught by a lone girl who the translator was talking to. Her name was Sumon and she had missed school especially to see us today. She is 14 and collects water for 11 people in her family home - she is the only one that does this and she makes a lot of trips every day both before and after school, and if there isn't enough water she misses school to keep carrying. She aspires to learn sewing and be a dressmaker when she is older, but her face seems to say she has no hope of doing it. It saddens me greatly and I wanted to teach her there and then like my Mum did for me.

WaterAid are in the process of just starting to work with this village so there is some hope. They are unsure at the moment until they do some survey work whether it will be possible to meet the aspirations of the village for full piped supply, but they are confident that whatever they are able to do will make a difference.

Caroline x

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