2009 - India Update 420-11-2009
Our last few days in Kolar were a whirlwind of activities way too numerous to detail. We celebrated RamaChandra’s birthday with a cake the size and shape of a guitar, the birth of his first granddaughter, whose letter of her first name was chosen by an astrologer with the family to complete the name after 9 days. We had a series of emotional goodbye ceremonies with the workshop crew and friends. We were honored with special temple shawls and had last dinners at friend’s homes, visited a local village to video tape beneficiaries with filters and had many touching and memorable moments.
But our work for this trip was not done. We gathered all our strength to travel to New Delhi for our last three days in India to make new inroads by sharing the Bio-sand technology with the Panchvati Foundation and a Rotary club, both of which had expressed interest in our work through correspondence. We were very fortunate to be able to present our Bio-sand water filter PowerPoint presentation to the Rotary Club of South Delhi Metropolitan. This club is extremely prestigious and has members that take the lead in several Rotary International water and sanitation initiatives. We had met one of their members through a high school friend of Cathy’s who worked with him through UNICEF. He headed up and instituted the UNICEF water and sanitation initiative for the country of India. The club members were gracious, welcoming and most importantly, they truly embraced the concept of the Bio-sand filter and are determined to adopt the technology in some of their projects.
They are heavily involved in several projects in New Delhi and in the remote villages north of the city. One of the members took us to one of their primary city projects in the Kusumpur Pahari slums of south Delhi. The Rotary club has several initiatives in this slum including vocational training for girls, pre-school instruction for youngsters to get them ready for the regular school system and remedial education for older children to mainstream them into the government school programs.
Their training and school facility was adjacent to a playground muddied in the low areas from a recent rain and rutted by wallowing families of pigs who enjoy the mud after feeding in the adjacent dump littered with the foulest of garbage. Young, dirt caked children with matted hair chased the piglets waving sticks for amusement, running barefoot through the mounds of trash. Other disheveled children played in the dusty and level portions of the playground. This was Monday, a school day for most children but not for these kids. There are over 20,000 people crammed into just one section of the slum, living in a variety of shanty-like homes, some sturdier looking than others, separated by the narrowest of lanes snaking around a hilly terrain.
We were lucky to tour the slum while the people getting their twice weekly allotment of water delivered by tanker truck. There are several water collection areas in the slum and the women and children gather in these areas with their 20 liter jugs. Each family is allotted 40 liters of water twice a week or 80 liters of water for a family each week. That is less than 20 gallons of water a week, far less than an American family would use in just one day just flushing the toilet. This water is for drinking and is supposed to be potable. We have tested tanker water in Kolar and found 90% of the water is contaminated by bacteria, exceeding the standard limits for drinking water. On top of that, the collection jugs are not sanitary, flies and dust are everywhere. There have been fights over the water here according to our host although the collection that day seemed orderly and lively.
In one spot a woman in a bright red sari was distributing the water in bare feet, walking on the tops of a field of jugs with the tanker hose filling each jug while deftly stepping from one to the other.
The residents have created a city within a city with small shops selling sundries, and small businesses like bicycle tire repairing intermixed amongst the homes. There is every conceivable caste and religion represented here. Each caste and language group tends to live in blocks of like kind. It is like a mini India has sprung up here and a dozen different languages can be heard throughout the community. This is a place where our filters will do a tremendous service for the residents, reducing the incidents of water borne disease and improving the overall health of the people. It will be a challenge to educate the residents as to the health benefits of filtered water and community health workers will have to be trained to look after the filters once they are installed.
The challenges and opportunities to improve the quality of life for the poor of India are endless. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems. We take comfort in the story about the elderly man and his granddaughter who were walking on a deserted beach after a storm. The beach was littered with thousands of stranded starfish, dying in the sun. The little girl began to pick up the stranded starfish and gently return them to the water. Her grandfather laughed and explained that her efforts were futile because of the number of starfish on the beach. The little girl turned to her grandfather as she was about to release a starfish into the sea and said, “It will make a big difference for this one”.
We wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for your continued interest and support.
Cathy & Mike