“Water” – The Hidden Side!!

Tangisahi village in the Nayagarh district of Orissa welcomes you with bright sunflower field at the entrance of the village. The villagers greet the gram vikas staff and photographers with warm smiles and fresh papayas.

A village meeting was held as an open, general discussion. All the villagers were present for the meeting. The women lined up on one side of the carpet and the men on the other. When asked, how they got to know about the water & sanitation project, it was explained that the President of the village had seen the facilities in his relatives house in the Ganjam district where the project was implemented by Gram Vikas. Thus, he decided to introduce this program in his village also.

He spoke to everyone in the village and got an acceptance from all. He then contacted Gram Vikas for the implementation. The project was successfully implemented and everybody now has access to safe and clean water for bathing & drinking.

Blue Planet Network supported the cost to set-up the water supply system in this village. This contribution is apart from the government & community contribution. The community contributes towards the corpus fund and also towards physical labour for construction of toilets, bathrooms etc.

Some have even improved the facility: Utam Jani made it easier for herself to clean vessels by hooking up a garden hose to the bathroom tap – a simple innovation.

In hindsight old customs die hard. During menstruation women go to the well for water. They then use this water to bathe separately. When asked to explain about the practice, we were told that they have been following this practice for a very long time. The belief is that the women are impure during this time of the month. And so would not want to contaminate the clean water, as this water is offered to God.

When compared to the state of affairs in the villages before the intervention, particularly in the tribal villages there have been a lot of improvements in the quality of life. However, age old customs and traditions are still followed in the tribal villages.  But Gram Vikas has to work its way around some of these.

Tribal villages are often neglected as these communities are small in numbers. More often than not they are excluded from the government schemes because they are unaware as to what is available to them. Gram Vikas works on the policy of “inclusion” and thus believes that the community size is not a limiting factor when it comes being included in any welfare schemes.

Dusashyan Jani is a farmer who tends his nearby fields. After which he comes home and takes a sacred bath. He then offers water to the Tulsi plant, (It has religious significance and also healing power) a ritual practised for centuries, bringing fortune to the person.

Thus “water” is just not water in these villages, it fullfills various needs of the tribal people  in more than one way. The important thing is that Tangisahi village now have access to clean water which always seemed impossible.

-By Siri Avalur

Water after Ten Years!!

Bimala Jani, a resident of Adivasi Colony in Ganjam district of Orissa has five children – three boys and two girls. She talks excitedly about how happy she is with the new water and sanitation facilities in her village.

This project is implemented only if every single household in the village agrees to participate and contribute in every stage of the project. She talks about the “inclusion” process and explained that initially two families in her village were against the water & sanitation project.  Even with Gram Vikas’ earlier successful livelihood projects, getting every families agreement for this project proved a challenge.   This project was proposed much earlier in this village – nearly ten years ago. Due to internal conflict among the villagers the project could not materialise and take shape at that point in time. Nevertheless, Gram Vikas made repeated attempts to convince the people of this village to take up the program.

An interesting observation can be made from what Bimala Jani says. She says that two families in the village were not convinced for a very long time.  The President of the Adivasi Colony conducted a village meeting and explained the benefits of availing this facility, having seen the benefits in the different villages. It took a week of serious discussion to get a positive response from everyone. This program was being implemented in the neighbouring village (Indra Colony) where the benefits of the piped water system and sanitation facility were clear. The women in those villages were happy to make use of the facility and were the best demonstration for Adivasi colony: word of mouth spread across this village about the benefits of the new facility.

Chanchala Jani, who has two boys and five girls, adds that she had to collect water from the well which was 200 meters away from her house at least five times a day. Not only was this a lot of hard work, but also decreased the amount of time she had to earn extra income and just to sit and relax. She also explains that the people in the village realised that the water from the well was creating sickness but they had no        other source of water for drinking and bathing.

When asked what she does with her extra time now, she says she just relaxes and watches television and also adds extra income to the family by leaf-plate making.

Finally, when asked if she would marry her daughter into a village that did not have water and sanitation facility she couldn’t imagine that occurring. By the time her daughter would be eligible for marriage, she was positive that all the villages would have water and sanitation facility as her village was one of the last to avail this facility.

Blue Planet Network has supported the water supply system in this village. Gravity flow system is the first option in all the villages to supply water.  This reduces the cost as no electricity is used in the process while people still enjoy piped water at the turn of a tap in their houses!  The water source is at a height from the water tank, thus the water is directly pushed into the water tank because of the pressure.  However, in this village the water has been supplied directly from the well without a water tank! This was an experiment done in this village as the number of households was less. The experiment was successful. This was then taken to the other villages with more families from then on.

Adivasi colony has only nineteen households, out of which two households were not convinced about the project. Because the numbers were so small, it was easier to get everyone to agree to this project especially as there was a lot of awareness amongst the villagers about the benefits of the program. The advantage was that the first hand benefits were visible in their neighbouring village.

On the other hand it becomes a herculean task for Gram Vikas when the number of household increases and the task becomes even more daunting when it is a non-tribal village, as the issues of caste and class come up. Gram Vikas is fighting hard to overcome all these barriers and make water available to more people in the inaccessible areas, most importantly where the government has limited reach.

-By Siri Avalur

Peer report on Agua para la Vida in Nicaragua by Jackie Powell

As a Program Coordinator for Agua para la Salud in Nebaj, Guatemala I had the rare opportunity to visit Agua para la Vida in Nicaragua. APLV has completed over 50 water and sanitation projects all over Nicaragua with offices located in Managua and Rio Blanco. The purpose of my visit was to learn not only about their past and present projects but to familiarize myself with the extensive organizational network that APLV has constructed to address all aspects and issues of their projects.

During my five day stay in Rio Blanco I had the opportunity to visit three nearby project sites with various specialists from Agua para la Vida, local members of water committees, and a volunteer photographer from PhotoPhilanthropy, Jon Polka. (Photos provided by Jon Polka, photo-philanthropist: APLV Photographs – GIF Pics) Commonalities between the sites were easy to diagnose as all villages had few economic resources and were extremely rural and disperse which lead to the great need of a reliable and nearby water resource and sanitation facilities.

Day One: Tri-Community Water System

The first site we visited was located two hours from Rio Blanco and is a current project site serving the three communities of Quirragua, El Carmen, and San Isidro (111 families in total). Upon arriving, we hopped on horses waiting for us at the entrance of San Isidro. The horses were necessary for two reasons: the rainy season in Nicaragua creates deep pockets of mud difficult to pass through on foot and the three communities are located several kilometres away from each other with no road access.

This large project began when the community of El Carmen began to look for a water resource in order to provide water for their community. The spring they located was eight kilometres away in the village of Quirragua. It was decided during the initiation of the project to include the village of San Isidro as well to the conduction lines since it is located between El Carmen and Quirragua.

First, we visited the school of San Isidro and met with the local water committee or CAPS (Comité de Agua Potable y Saneamiento or Committee of Potable Water and Health). From their introduction and brief words shared it was clear that APLV has not only formed excellent relations with the community but APVL has also created tight work strategies within the communities. Each CAPS committee not only has a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer but there are also individuals with the titles of Health Promoter, Environmental Promoter, and a Maintenance Representative. Each of these posts works alongside their APLV counterpart throughout the implementation of the project. The APVL counterpart gives several educational workshops members of CAPS and the community in order to assure the communities knowledge of the project, system maintenance, healthy habits, and environmental care.

After lunch we saddled up to visit the spring site located in Quirragua. CAPS and other community members joined us on our trek to the site and once we arrived it was quite the communal celebration of drinking water from the spring. Overall it was an excellent day spent seeing and learning how the communities and APLV work together.

Day Two: APLV Office in Rio Blanco

The next day I spent some time in the Rio Blanco office where I visited with Esteban Cantillano who is responsible for the monitoring of finished projects, potable water, and overall health of the communities. In other words, Esteban is the maintenance monitor for all of the projects APLV has done and will do in the future. In order to manage his time he dutifully trains CAPS and the community during the realization of the project. Due to content, his trainings are often long and intense yet he tries to make them as fun and interactive as possible. He also believes in teamwork and hones in on this skill development throughout his community trainings.  His job can be looked at as the sustainability element of the organization because he does not want a small issue to get in the way of the community having access to water in the future.One lesson Esteban presents to communities is the identification of parts commonly used during the construction of the water system.

Unfortunately Esteban´s job does have major hurdles to overcome. First, he was eager to remind me that his job does not begin at the end of the project. Instead, he feels as though he must keep a close watch on every step of the project to prevent future complications and issues. Furthermore, his job is made even more complicated when members of CAPS change and he has to re-train members. Unlike the other sections of APLV who have multiple employees, Esteban is overseeing every project maintenance issue himself. Additionally, Esteban must travel by public transportation to visit the sites which cuts into his time with each community. Each of these issues boil down to a common concern when it comes to maintenance and sustainability in any NGO: funding.

Escuela Technica de Agua Portable

Next, I visited ETAP- Escuela Technica de Agua Portable or Technical School for Potable Water. The story goes the APLV´s co-founder, Gilles Corcos, began this in-residence technical training course in 1996 after meeting a younger and eager-to-learn Esteban Cantillano. In return Esteban became one of six students to first graduate from ETAP. Currently, the school is comprised of eight recently graduated students from high school and a teacher. Anyone young person from Nicaragua can apply but only eight are accepted on full scholarships. The teachers for the current term (terms last 2-3 years) are a caring and energetic French couple, Denis and Cecile Barea who also share the responsibility of director for APLV. The classes are intensely math focused but this term is also being encouraged to read for fun and taught basic life skills though the influence of their teachers. Students also spend three-fourths of their time with APLV technicians to gain hands-on experience in the field. After students graduate they go on to work in government institutions, other NGOs or APLV. However, APVL cannot give all graduates a job because of the small size of the organization.

Day Three: River Captation Site

On Wednesday we went back into the field to visit an extraordinary open river captation site located in the village of Enea. Like the majority of the villages APLV works with, Enea is a very disperse community but with a very unique situation. For twenty years families in Enea searched for a way to provide water to their homes. Prior to the water system, Enea residents were fetching water from the river between 2 and 4 in the morning because that is when they thought the water was most clean. Since the river was the main water source for the community, many engineering groups did technical analysis on the river and said a captation site could not be done. Enea kept searching. Finally, one day a pastor mentioned an organization he had heard of in Rio Blanco who worked in water projects. Representatives from Enea travelled to Rio Blanco and finally encountered APLV. After a diagnostic study and help in design from Gilles Corcos the community was told APLV could support the construction of their water system. After eight months of hard labour and sometimes working 24 hours a day in shifts, the 102 families of Enea now have water in their homes.

Tubing runs from the initial river captation site to the distribution tanks located several kilometres away. However, before the water reaches the distribution tank it is put through two more filtration processes. First, (left) the water is put into two open storage tanks that have a filtration system of three types of sand and a rock layer. This system is cleaned once a month by members of the community. Then, (right) water is put through a chlorination system. Currently, the community is not chlorinating their water due to lack of access to chlorination tablets. APLV is working with the community and a distributor in Managua on finding a solution to this issue. However, it was found through a water test that the water in the storage tank only contained two coliform bacteria thus proving that the multiple filtration process alone is working to extract the majority of the harmful bacterias.

In my experience I found the residents of Enea to be very proud of the hard work they have put forth to complete their water system and further develop their community. Moreover, they are extremely grateful to APLV not only for their technical support and help funding the project but for the trainings they executed. One of the health promoters in Enea openly shared that because of the trainings the residents of Enea now understand that water fetched directly from the river at any hour is contaminated.

Day Four: Health Education Workshop

On Thursday we paid our final field visit to the community of Carrizal of forty-three families where Health and Hygiene Promoter, Lilian Obando, was giving an educational workshop to the women beneficiaries of Carrizal on the use and management of water. With every project APLV executes a health promoter from APLV gives four health trainings to CAPS members and four to the beneficiaries. Although all members of the community are important to involve, Lilian enjoys having a few trainings for only the women in the community since they are the ones whose lives are directly affected by water. When we arrived at the school at 1pm there was a group of eager women awaiting us. The hour long workshop seemed to be a dynamic and fun experience for all involved. The training included songs, skits, poems, games, teamwork, and lots of participation, smiles and laughter. It was very clear that Lilian´s means of educating communities is fluid from her almost fifteen years working as Health and Hygiene Promoter of APLV.

Additional workshops and responsibilities of Lilian includes but is not limited to teaching beneficiaries how to construct their own latrine, working with local schools, health posts, and the Ministry of Education to provide health classes in schools, home visits to understand economic and social conditions of each family and sometimes helping them locate other local resources such as women´s shelters or homes for the handicapped. The job of the Health and Hygiene Promoter, like all the promoters at APLV, is essential to the holistic approach engrained into the organization.

Before the workshop commenced we joined Lilian to visit a few families who were in the process of installing their water meters. Water meters are an extremely important and useful tool APLV has been using the keep track of water used and therefore how much each family needs to pay. These monthly fees are then deposited into a bank account controlled by CAPS and used when repairs are needed to be made.


In conclusion, my experience with APLV and their welcoming staff was overwhelmingly positive. As noted in this report, APLV has an extensive network within their organization that seems to be functioning with few troubles. Unfortunately my short visit cannot capture this picture entirely. I was unable to personally meet and/or speak in-depth with the Reforestation Manager, Social Promoters, Accountant, National Coordinator, Technical Staff, Masons, and Board of Directors whose jobs are also essential to the success of APLV and the communities in which they work.

A comparison between Agua para la Salud and Agua para la Vida is possible but not without limitations. The main difference between APS and APLV is the size of the organizations. APLV has over double the staff of APS and therefore is able to hone in on certain topics more than APS. However, the main purpose, goals, and methodology of APS and APLV are strikingly similar: to organize and work with local, rural populations in order to provide reliable water sources and sanitation facilities to communities and schools while also educating the beneficiaries on environmental and health impacts as well as maintenance concerns.

Field Trip Part II: I <3 Water

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve become a total water and sanitation nerd 🙂  My day visiting projects was basically epic and after being inspired by the people in Panoli, learning about watersheds, as I did in the next village, was almost excitement overload for me!

As we drove toward Sherikoldara, over the bumps in the road and through the dry, brown landscape, I wondered how long the pipe would have to be to bring water to this arid place.  Little did I know that the type of projects WOTR specializes in, require hardly any fancy technology to bring prosperous and lush fields to whole regions. Quite honestly, until Thomas explained it to me that day, I had no clue what “watershed development” really meant, and if you are like me, prepare to be amazed!

First, we pulled over on the side of the road overlooking hillsides covered in long, parallel lines, that Thomas explained to me were stone bunts or rock dams.  From photos I had seen in the office I knew that these trenches had something to do with watershed but then again, I didn’t even know what the word “watershed” really referred to or how it did anything for people needing water in this browning place.  It turns out, the idea behind watershed (think: “shed” as in, to shed tears or, as the dictionary defines it “shed -verb :to emit and let fall”) development and rainwater harvesting is actually quite simple and fascinatingly brilliant!

The concept, as Thomas showed me, is to catch the rainwater where it falls and then control, through these trenches, how fast the water flows down the hill sides and how the soil absorbs the moisture.  When it rains, water speeds down hills leaving no time for the soil to soak up that much moisture and, for it to be used to benefit communities.  In fact, often over the past few years rainfall has decimated crops coming in one week instead of stretched over months and flooding out anything planted.  Through creating rock formations, digging trenches, and  planting sapplings, WOTR attempts to change this pattern by working with communities to completely redevelop their hillsides around their fields and valleys and, “make the water walk.”

These contour lines and simple landscape modifications that seriously require no high-tech or costly appliances slow the water’s run down so instead of speeding down hill with gravity, it sinks slowly into the ground.  Each drop of rain is literally harvested or used like this to reduces runoff and, ultimately, increase the water table.  By ending free grazing and planting saplings, the development encourages natural growth to create vegetative cover and even increase the water holding capacity of the aquifers.

The soil absorbs the moisture, the vegetation cuts out erosion, agriculture flourishes.  Simple as that.  As we wound around the hills to reach the valley, I saw how simply brilliant that method really is.  We emerged from the dusty brown fields to a valley covered in a patchwork quilt of crops and lush green trees similar to what I’m sure the Great Valley from the Land Before Time must have been like!

WOTR’s particular approach has also been so successful because, as Shiwaji, the head of Sherikoldara’s watershed development, explained to me, everyone in his village had to come together and work for months to create the habitat they now benefit so richly from.  Shiwaji told me the whole story about the village’s progress from convincing everyone to develop the land this way, all the way through to the benefits they receive now.  He said that farmers who farm the now plentiful lands will receive 1,000,000 rupees this year for their onion crop!  In a country where the average person earns Rs 36,000 for the whole year (less than $1,000), and drought conditions are making it so hard for farmers to make ends meet that they are actually committing suicide, this number is absolutely phenomenal!

Shiwaji also told me a fantastic story about how, since the approach that WOTR uses requires the whole village to come together uniting the poor and tribal parts of the village with the rich and higher caste members, now a member of the lowest caste, Adavasi, is going to university in Pune and, the whole village even paid for his education!  Shiwaji told me that this young man hopes to finish school and reach the highest government office working for communities to come together over caste barriers.  Amazing.

It was truly incredible to hear all of the success this village, in a flourishing valley and surrounded by thousands of acres of hillsides covered in man-made trenches, is enjoying.  As the sunset over the hillside, I imagined what it would be like, after years of drought, to wake up in the morning after spending months and months digging around in the dirt on hillsides to see the sun pouring over the great valley that I worked with my neighbours to create.  Of course, my imagination could never compare to the reality that the families bagging their onion crop were experiencing, but looking around, it was tangible how watershed development had transformed these people’s lives.  The valley seemed to smile as the sun was setting on it and I was beaming after learning that something so technologically simple could have such vast impacts in every realm of life for a whole community.

I learned so much and was incredibly inspired both from meeting the women and families in Panoli and seeing such excellent innovation and land usage to create new opportunities in people’s lives.  As in my day spent with the hydrogeologists and talking to Joe Madiath, my knowledge base of water and development was expanded tenfold through this field trip and, as dorky as it may sound, I love water and sanitation 🙂  Now off to see some toilets in Mumbai!!

Field Trip Part I: Girl Power

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!

A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Three: A Day in the Life

In addition to learning thousands of things about water and sanitation, I am also having the greatest time learning about Indian office life and sipping chai about six times a day! I usually wake up around seven to the lovely sound of water buffalo and goats cruising along on the road outside my window. I cart the water for a bucket bath from a tap in the center of campus back to my room- barely understanding the burden of hauling it from miles away and increasingly more impressed at how so many Indian women can carry these vessels all those miles on their heads while also gracefully holding up saris! Even though my task is so small, I am keenly aware that this is something I would have never had to do back home and it is giving me the slightest insight into life for so much of the world.
My room in the guest house is about ten minutes from the main office and dining hall. Breakfast is served by the wonderful cook we call, Na Na, around 8:30 – usually puri or idlly, but sometimes my favorite, opma or the odd choice, chowmein with ketchup (this is something most people back home would really never eat in combination let alone for breakfast!). The work day then officially starts at nine. I somehow scored a great little office on the second floor overlooking the courtyard in the center of the main building. There is even a little pond in the center with a turtle swimming around.
Everyday at ten, the lovely office employee, Joyo, brings little cups of chai to all of us at our desks and consequently ten might be my favorite time of morning!

When I’m not drinking tea, I am poking around the PWX site, exploring the different features, thinking of ways to make things easier or more understandable, and sorting out what Gram Vikas already has uploaded to the site and what else needs to be. Much of my time has been devoted to talking to different people in the office trying to locate records on different computers or actual hard copies of information for various projects on the site. I’ve been focusing on getting my hands on some interviews, videos, and photos to try to bring the sites alive and show the life of villages with or without water and sanitation. Collecting all of this information has proven a bit tricky since it isn’t always centrally located or accessible, and so my goal is to use PWX to add another element of organization and a fuller picture of projects for a non-profit that has really done some amazing work and has a lot to showcase to the world.
In addition to updating the Gram Vikas projects on the site and the welcome interruptions of chai, I spent a few days working on a water award application for Gram Vikas. Again throughout the project I learned more and more about this organization’s practices and other WASH systems for rural development, but I was also introduced to a British/Indian form of English quite unlike my native American English. For an English major with a mother who is a professional proofreader, this was quite a task! Words like “whomsoever” and “alongwith” seemed as foreign to me as the little chili peppers I picked out of my meals. Naturally I had to edit for British spellings throughout as well – in American English we write, “feces” while in British English the same word is spelled “faeces.” There are little sayings too that still confuse me: “fill up an application,” “go to office,” and “I’ve been in my home,” – those tricky prepositions always switching with different forms of the confusing English language! Many other parts from grammatical intricacies to crores and commas were different as well so in addition to picking up bits of Oriya, I’m really happy to have discovered this new form of English.

Besides punctuation and pronunciation differences, there are many office customs here that differ from the American offices I’ve worked in. There are, of course, the 10am and 4pm daily chai breaks which I have already explained my new love for, but other office practices are taking some getting used to for me. For instance, as an American woman shaking hands is always a little confusing for me, sometimes in certain offices we wear shoes and sometimes it is customary to leave them by the door, and here people always take lunch breaks whereas back home lunch usually meant shoving something down in front of your computer screen – these are just some of the quirky little differences in the day-to-day functions of an office in a new place. Then there are the power outages that remind me again that I am indeed out here in a village! They happen several times throughout the work day, and now I’m so used to them that when the power flicks off I just keep working away until the internet cuts out and then I read for a minute until it all comes flashing back on and we can start the whole process again!
Everyone stops for an hour lunch break at one and the work day is officially over at 5:45. In the evenings I have often continued working just trying to finish up these projects but sometimes I play cards with new friends or read until dinner which happens at 8:30 in the evening. Since we usually eat at 6 or 7 back in America, this late night meal is definitely a transition too! All of the curries and dals and pakoras have been delicious at the mess and all of the staff I have met through Gram Vikas have been so welcoming and wonderful! Only a few weeks left in my new home, but I have really enjoyed the learning experience – about water, but also about culture.

A Volunteer’s Adventures Part Two: Hydrogeology and Golpapur

Not only is the campus absolutely gorgeous, but all of the staff and volunteers I’ve met working for and with Gram Vikas are incredible as well! In addition to the 500 or so employees of Gram Vikas, various contacts from all kinds of organizations come through Mohuda all the time. For a traveler exploring the developing world, meeting people from all over the globe working on various projects in the villages is basically a dream come true!

Two such new friends, Marijn and Roelof, are hydrogeologists staying here for about two weeks to train people in the villages to test water quality. From the Netherlands, Marijn and Roelof have taught me so many things, one of which is a culinary tip from their hometown: how to turn every Indian dish into something sweet by adding jam or sugar! Besides amusing the dining hall with our strange creations, they invited another intern and me to go on an explorer mission with them last Sunday!

They explained to us the adventure they were planning: GoogleMaps shows the earth in this part of Orissa as being darker in a western part and lighter in an eastern part, pretty much separated by a distinct line that they imagined was a different kind of rock or deposit from a river or the ocean. Armed with a large print out of the area, a jeep and driver from GV, and a GPS system we were going to figure out why. They tried to play it off as though it sounded boring, but I thought they were essentially proposing an exploration mission that would rival that of Christopher Columbus!

So with excitement in the air and our explorer’s gear in hand, we climbed into the Qualis around ten in the morning ready for a day of real, live exploring! The four of us and our driver, Babolo took up all of the seats in the jeep so it was a little crammed especially as we wound around the dogs and people in the streets. Mixed with lots of trying to explain to our driver where we wanted to go, Marijn explained to me so much about water projects and systems of all kinds, the science and engineering about how water actually arrives to most of the taps, and ground water. I was ecstatic all day long! I have been working around water- fundraising with BPR and now here, for a few years, but something about seeing the projects and hearing about the processes from my new Dutch friends really illuminated the world of water to me.

Throughout the morning, we stopped at a few sites where holes had been dug in the ground for random purposes and surveyed the soil. Marijn and Rudolph showed us how and why certain parts of the earth were red and others gray. We took pictures of the rocks and my specific job was to make GPS readings at each site so we could make a more accurate map to compare with the google image. Everywhere we went a crowd of confused Indians huddled around us really baffled as to why four foreigners were maneuvering around piles of poop to pick up dirt and take pictures of holes!

We stopped at one of the GV village water towers and in addition to surveying the area, picked up about four new members to our team who were to help us navigate the tricky roads in that part of the region. So, for the next hour or so, nine of us crammed into the jeep and looked for differences in water sources and rock and earth colors. Most of the time we were going a different direction than we had planned because of road blocks and communication barriers but the adventure didn’t disappoint in showing us great new things like long-tailed, kangaroo-like monkeys and all kinds of mountainous and rocky terrain from rock quarries to brackish water bodies. It was wild and fun and fascinating!

After some photos and marking a few more points we returned to drop off the extra people at their car. The villagers were waiting for us with sodas and tons of kids crowding around the jeep looking at us. Even though our communication with the kids was limited to, “How are you,” and “What’s your name,” they were thrilled to hear us try to speak to them. Most of the 20 minutes we sat with them was just us smiling really big at the kids and them returning the gesture! It was such a fun morning!

The next few hours continued with much of the same, convincing our driver to take us down certain roads to spots we thought would lead us to a point on the map, making some notes and pictures, and then continuing on. From the highway our driver turned down a tiny narrow street totally covered in foliage which eventually led us to a huge lake. It was amazing that he could ever know that that tiny road from the busy highway could lead to the lake!

There we took a water quality reading. It was tricky to find a part of the lake where someone wasn’t bathing or doing laundry to be able to take a sample, but eventually we found a fenced in area that would be as clean as it would get. We tested the PH as well as the levels of carbonate hardness, nitride, and iron among other things and learned which pollutants may cause some of the levels to be higher- again I was learning just how important the link is between water and sanitation, but this time with chemical numbers to back this up!

Our last stop was Golpapur. In the spring Golpapur is known for giant sea turtles mating and laying eggs on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Here we ate at a delicious Indian restaurant. We had my favorite, Paneer Butter Masala and another mushroom dish with hot, puffy naan. I also tasted the best sweet/salty lime soda! After a late lunch and a walk along the beach, we drove the hour-long return back to campus. The day was filled with exciting adventures and sightseeing. I felt like a sponge soaking up all of the knowledge my new friends could teach me and I was exhausted as I returned to my room. In perfect Indian style, my wonderful neighbor heard my return and knocked at the door with a steaming cup of chai. Oh, how I love India!

Adventures in Volunteering

Okay. I know, the little white suburban girl learns about a real-world issue firsthand – it’s kind of clichéd by now, made into movies and books and blogs galore, but here I am, in the middle of India, fresh out of university with a padded humanities degree and all of the fluff in my head trying to find a path into the world of development and getting a good dose of reality along with it!

I first worked with the Blue Planet Run Youth Board for two years working with incredibly creative and motivated young people to raise awareness among their peers of the world’s drinking water crisis. The experience was wonderful, and when I graduated and wanted to spend a year traveling and volunteering, I contacted Rajesh – head of the BPR water network, Peer Water Exchange, to see if he knew of anything. And boy, did he! Now I’m knee-deep in PWX and loving every single second of it!

I’ll first hail back to my BPR days though (even just a year ago). One of the many activities we created to raise awareness was a viral video where I, along with another youth board coordinator, explained the statistics on a video for other youth – 1.1 billion people, women walking hours, blah, blah, blah. And not that the statistics aren’t important – they are incredibly astonishing and worthwhile, but my point is that while I knew the statistics forward and back, I know now that I did not know the problem until I got to Gram Vikas.

I arrived to the sunny haven that is the main office campus of Gram Vikas in little Mohuda Village, Orissa after a grueling 20-some-hour train journey. Butterflies pranced in the palm tree-shaded path as I carried my backpack to my new room in the beautifully crafted intern guesthouse.

On the way here, I had no idea what the area would be like. In fact, in my ignorance, I was pretty much expecting dry, uninhabitable lands with unbearable conditions. Orissa is, after all, one of the poorest states in India where less than 4% of the population has access to piped drinking water. To make matters worse, I had been reading in the paper leading up to my visit to Gram Vikas that farmers across the state where killing themselves because of the terrible drought conditions slamming the lands. Walking in this lush enclave was not at all what I had imagined. Again, I knew the stats about the area, but I was blown away by the mountainous region covered in green trees and jungle fauna.

Since then, I have visited five projects in the area and researched pretty much every single one of the 701 water and sanitation projects initiated by Gram Vikas and the great Joe Madiath. In many parts, conditions are indeed terrible, but what I have learned from Joe – both through the books about him and his wonderful patience in explaining everything to me – is that the statistics about water that I have so fervently memorized and preached for all these years are very important, but still, only half the problem or less. Why is the water unsafe and unclean? Because people poop in it, bathe in it, and wash in it. Because flies land on feces, which sticks to their feet, which then contaminates the food they land on. Because animals loiter around the water sources pooping at will and carrying feces on their hooves and mouths as they drink from the well. Sitting in Joe’s office while he spelled it out for me was one of those “duh” moments. The numbers are meaningless without understanding the meat behind the issue. And in this case, it took me coming all the way here to begin to really grasp the water crisis.

Since then, I have delved into everything WatSan (one of the many acronyms I’ve learned for water and sanitation). My official business here is to help Gram Vikas get all of their projects organized onto PWX, but in that process, I have helped with a few other things around the office and in every ounce of my free time, soaked up all of the knowledge I can on water and sanitation – no pun intended! More on my adventures in water to follow!

Improving the PWX Application Process

After experiencing one round of the application review process, I have some suggestions on improving it.

To keep these dialogues concise and to the point I tend to believe that the key solution lays in the project proposal and applications. These may have to be presented by adopted concise and comprehensive standard format, containing specific parameters of a perfect projects definition that match adopted standard selection and prioritization criteria. These parameters and criteria would necessarily derive from adopted underlying general domestic water supply & sanitation development policy principles. The same parameters may form the basis for monitoring verifiable indicators respectively evaluation.

For example: currently stakeholder information is not clearly and explicitly spelled out.

I welcome a discussion on this topic.


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PWX taught at African Women and Water Conference

Blue Planet Run Foundation’s Annette Fay went to Kenya to attend the African Women and Water Conference in June 2008. 15 pairs of women were being trained in water technologies so that they could go back to their communities and start water projects.

As part of the conference, these women were also trained by Annette on using PWX to manage their funds, projects, and learn and share. Here’s Annette’s report.


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PWX has a new water-friendly eco-friendly home in Bangalore

The Peer Water Exchange finds a new home in a community appropriately named Laughing Waters.

PWX now operates out of one the most operationally eco-friendly buildings in Bangalore.

The building runs on solar power (18 photo-voltaic solar panels) and there are two cascaded solar water heaters.

The water system is the most interesting and features:

  • – a 17,000 liter underground rainwater harvesting tank

  • – a biosand filter for drinking water

  • – four recirculation/reuse systems to maximize use and reuse of water

  • – bathrooms featuring 4 input water lines: drinking water, regular water, hot water, and grey water

  • – a grey water system from the washing machine that goes to flush the toilets

  • – grey water systems for irrigation of roof garden.

The first piece of ‘furniture’ purchased was a composting bin!

Then 12 trees were planted, 9 of them fruit trees.

PWX-central is trying to walk the talk and also providing carbon offsets to Blue Planet Run.

Of course you can track down PWX-central on the PWX map! www.peerwater.org/map.