Blog Post

Training participants in kolar u1 11 2011

2011 - India Update 1

20-11-2011

Dear Friends,

We are in India for our annual November excursion.  Before we go forward and tell you what’s going on now, we have to go backwards to September of this year when Mike spent six days in India.  Our organization, South Asia Pure Water Initiative, Inc. (SAPWII), sponsored a training course for two weeks in September. Mike attended the first week of the course which was a training program for teachers of health promoters.  It focused on training village level workers that teach health, sanitation and hygiene information to the villagers. It was all about effective teaching techniques to insure learners absorb and remember the information.   Mike found it extremely interesting and totally different than anything he has experienced before.  The second week of training was about the nuts and bolts of manufacturing a BioSand water filter, water testing, sanitation and hygiene and implementing a program of manufacture and distribution of the filters.

The course was taught primarily by Melinda Foran, an engineer from the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST). This is the Canadian organization that trained Mike six years ago on how to manufacture a BioSand water filter and how to create a program to introduce it in another country.  Melinda is a mechanical engineer and a fantastic instructor; in fact after the course was over and she returned to Canada she was promoted in the organization as the director of training. The course invited people from organizations all over India. We had people from Assam in the very north eastern part of India as well as people from Calcutta and the Punjab, the breadbasket of India. 

It has been our intention for many years to try to expand our program to include other organizations as manufacturers and implementers of programs featuring the BioSand filter technology. This was our first big attempt to attract a large and diverse community of people who are interested in this technology.  All of the participants thought that the course was very well done and were very complementary both to Melinda and her training assistant Sheila as well as RamaChandra (SAPWII program director) for organizing the event and helping to invite people from all over the country.  We plan to offer more courses again next year.

It was a quick trip; Mike was in India for approximately 6 days, leaving on the night after the last day of training.  We would not recommend traveling back and forth to India for only a week; it is very hard on the constitution.   But it was a very rewarding trip in many ways, and it was wonderful to see our organization fulfill one of its dreams of exposing the BioSand filter technology to other parts of the country.  From previous efforts, two other organizations have started BioSand water filter manufacturing programs and we hope the training session will result in the startup of more of these programs in India.

That brings us to our current trip to India.  As we did last November we flew from New York JFK to Doha Qatar and from there on to Bangalore.  The thing that made this year’s travel so special was that RamaChandra's son Soma Shaker was on the same leg of the flight from Doha to Bangalore with us. That was quite a coincidence because we independently booked our trips. Soma Shaker has been working in London for the past eight months and this is his first trip home and was looking forward to it in a big way.  A large contingent of his family was at the airport to greet him at 3am when we arrived so we all got a ride back to Kolar in one group. The car ride from the airport to Kolar is on back roads and very pleasant.  We arrived at about 5:30 in the morning, stopping at RamaChandra's house for a cup of coffee and to hug the rest of the family before we headed to SN Resort Hotel where we are staying for the duration.

Our time in India so far has been spent mostly adjusting to the time difference (10 ½ hours), catching up on our sleep, and visiting with friends.  This is a busy year for RamaChandra’s family; his eldest daughter Somya had a second child (a son) in October and his youngest daughter Prathi will be married in late January.  A wedding in India is a huge event, starting with the engagement party that was held a week before we arrived that had approximately 250 guests.  There will be eight times that many people at the wedding reception.  There are many plans to be made and we had the opportunity to visit the site where the wedding will be held so Ram’s son could approve of the location.  Next week the family will travel to a special store near Chennai to purchase many outfits to be worn during the week-long wedding celebration.  We saw the beautiful clothes and jewelry worn by Prathi during the engagement party, the top of her sari was hand stitched by a relative with incredibly detailed beadwork; it is simply spectacular.

We traveled to Bangalore a few days ago to meet Prathi’s perspective husband and father and mother-in-law.  We went to the construction site where the family is building a four story luxurious home. The home boasts an elevator that goes up and down four floors, a parking area underneath with a home office on the ground floor, the first floor is living area, the second floor has bedrooms and the third floor has a movie theater, gymnasium, a Jacuzzi and a roof garden and entertainment area. All the windows and doors have teak jambs and molding. It is going to be magnificent when it is finished which will probably be in another 10 months.

We then visited the prospective in-law’s current home which is a rented villa nearby. We had a nice conversation and the prospective mother-in-law cooked us a wonderful simple vegetarian meal. The family owns a farm north of Bangalore and all the food, including the rice, lentils, fruits and vegetables came from the farm. Everything was fresh and delicious. 

We stayed in Bangalore for a few days to visit with Sabiha, the youngest daughter of our dear friend Haroon, who passed away just over two years ago.  It was wonderful to spend time with her and the family. Mike has a special bond with their seven year old son, Akbar, who delighted in playing games with Mike and showing him his omelet cooking skills in the kitchen.  While in Bangalore we visited Haroon’s restaurant called The Only Place which caters to ex-pats living in India.  As we do every year we delivered dried cranberries for their annual Thanksgiving feast, and to say hello to Haroon’s son and nephew who run the restaurant. 

The following day we had lunch with Ignasio, a friend we met through Haroon.  He is from Spain but lives in Bangalore most of the year running a charity that provides services to people with leprosy.   We had a wonderful lunch at his home and caught up on each other’s lives before heading back to Kolar.

One day we decided to pay a surprise visit to the home of Raja and his family.  Raja’s father was Mike’s cook forty years ago when Mike lived in Kolar for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.  The entire family including the children helped to take care of Mike and his partner Fran, sharing the cooking, cleaning and other chores.  It is always a treat for Mike to visit with the family.  Before going down the alleyway to the entrance to his home we called Raja, who was at work and said he would leave immediately to come home.   We rounded the corner and surprised his family who were sitting outside chitchatting in the beautiful afternoon sunshine. Everyone was surprised to see us because we gave them no indication that we were going to be there at this time. They hustled us inside and tried to feed us but since we had already eaten lunch we refused food and they quickly got the hint that we really weren't hungry and finally settled down to chat and move outside to take some family photographs.  It was a great visit.

Today is Friday and it is Niharika’s (RamaChandra’s granddaughter) second birthday so there is bound to be a big celebration.  We already know that there is a special cake that was purchased by her father in Bangalore and the rest will be a surprise to both the birthday girl and to us.

On Sunday we will visit the farmhouse of Prathi’s future in-laws for a barbeque.  On Monday and Tuesday we are traveling to the northern-most part of this district to visit eight of the villages that have received water filters under our Adopt-A-Village Partnership program during the past year.  The area is quite a distance from Kolar so we will stay overnight there.  We are really looking forward to that part of our trip; it is what we love most of our time here in India. 

We will send more news soon.

Cathy and Mike