Yesterday I finally got to visit one of the BPR-funded water projects! After months of tireless work with the Youth Board in Boulder a few years back, I finally got to meet the people who benefited from the projects that the awesome young people I had the pleasure of working with had helped to fundraise for! Also, as has been rather typical for almost my entire volunteer experience with PWX, I learned an infinite amount about water and innovations working in the developing world, all the while sipping sweet chai and meeting some of the most wonderful people! One of the WOTR employees, Thomas, (who actually began one of the watershed development projects we would visit) showed me around the region and taught me so many incredible things about the work of WOTR and the world of water.
Our first destination of the day was Panoli, a village of 1,200 people in Mahrashtra, India where WOTR helped facilitate a drinking water project with BPF funds. On the way there, we picked up a passenger, Tukaram, who grew up in this village and recently moved to the city to work for an NGO that implements water projects in other villages. Thomas and Tukaram gave me some background on the area where we were heading and we drove along the (newly-paved!) highway into the countryside. An hour or so later, we turned down a dirt road to a big body of water on our right and just down the hill on the left, the well and pump house. Thomas pointed out the area where the trench was dug that connected the village, located four kilometers from the well, to the water. Thomas explained to me how there used to be a project here, but the pipe that brought the water from the well to the village was leaky so it took over nine hours to fill the tank in town and was basically useless for the people. Then, with the BPR funds, the women organized their village to build a new pipeline and install a faster pump. Even when he said, “the women organized their village,” I didn’t totally know what that involvement meant until we got to Panoli.
After arriving in the village and meeting a group of high school girls eager to practice their English, we walked up to the school where several taps had been installed in the school yard. Three kids came up to the taps to demonstrate drinking out of them and lead us through a neat little garden that was fed with waste water. At the entrance to the garden, a little stage was set up in front of the school where all of the students were practicing for a Republic Day Performance for the next day.
After a few excellent performances, some of the village members led us to a little room where village governance matters are taken care of and I met the head of the village – a WOMAN! I was so very excited to see a woman occupying the Sarpanch seat at the table because it showed how truly powerful and active women have become in the village. From something as simple and basic as drinking water, Mrs. Anita Gaikwad and a group of other women united their village for this cause and gained respect and confidence as women!
Before the women took initiative to fix the drinking water problem in their community, there actually was a well, pump, and pipeline that, in theory, brought water to Panoli. All of these devices were installed over ten years ago and even at that point, the pump didn’t have enough horsepower to pump enough water, fast enough to supply the village with water for the day. Because of the faulty devices, women still had to walk to get water, especially during power cuts and summer months and, over time, the pipeline started to leak so that any water that was being delivered was arriving more slowly than ever.
These women then rallied their communities to raise their portion of the funds and begin working with WOTR. After this initial stage, all of the village members worked for a whole year to dig the trench with the new pipeline so that they could improve their society. I was so impressed by these powerful and inspirational women doing such great things for their community and they were so proud to tell me about all of their accomplishments.
Then, with Thomas translating, I told them about the Youth Board and how young people in the US were working to raise the funds for drinking water projects and I think they were equally as impressed. One man stood up to say how amazed he was by this because he always thought the donor funds came from business people but, hearing that kids in schools are working so hard for the cause was really inspirational as well. It was a really motivational meeting to see great work being done and people really acting on needs for their community! I loved the pride and eagerness emanating from the village and I was really blown away by the unity and confidence that Anita and the other women on the water board in Panoli had achieved. When I left, I was practically flying I felt so inspired by the good work being done by organizations like WOTR, the awesome Youth Board students, and the wonderful women and families of Panoli!