Monday, 18 February 2013

Day 3 - Part 1: Rush, Out & Reality

It's an early start for the group, my alarm is set for 5am, breakfast is planned for 6:15am and the bus is leaving at 7am... So you can imagine my horror when at 7am the phone in the room rings, waking me from a rather deep sleep! I leapt out of bed, answered the phone and said I'll be down in 2! Like an insane man being chased by a swarm of bees, I ran around the room, brushing my teeth, putting on my clothes and packing my day bag, all at the same time (who said men are unable to multi-task!).  I ran out the room, jump into the lift and arrived in the reception at 7:05am... Pretty quick I think, however facing the rest of group felt a little uncomfortable, at least it was eased slightly to find out I wasn't the last and another was also in the process of rushing down.

So why did this happen? I was sensible enough to set my alarm last night but stupid enough not to have turned the volume up... Note to self for the future and tip for others....

After the rush we were off, a 2 1/2 hour bus ride through villages and countryside to visit the village of Nayagaon. It was a misty morning, creating silhouettes of trees and buildings along the route, there is something quite magical about a thick haze, a distant sun and faint image of life passing by. The villages were highly colourful with livestock wandering freely, in-fact a smile was created on my face when a large cow walked slowly across a dual carriage way, she seemed not to have a care in the world.

We stopped briefly at one of the local WaterAid offices for a toilette break. It was enjoyable to get out of the bus for a while to stretch my legs, it was even more enjoyable to watch chipmunks playing on the rooftops. As I said it was a brief stop so after 10 minutes we were off again, but before leaving our host demonstrated the Indian hospitality by presenting us all with a box of local sweets (they look to be some form of sweet sesame snack), will let you know what they taste like.

The village of Nayagaon in the distance
The journey to the village of Nayagaon was an interesting one, the roads grew less and less like roads and became more like dirt tracks, followed by rocky, arid landscapes. We arrived at the village around 10am, it was an awesome sight, the villagers (members of Sahariya tribe) were out in force, there was cheering, fireworks and drums beating. As we got off the bus we were split into groups, men and women, we then made our way through the village crowds, where men adorned men with floral garlands (mala), made of marigolds and roses, whilst painting dilaks (also known as bindis) on our foreheads with red powder (roli), women had the same welcoming by the village women. This welcome is traditionally Hindu, it is said that the dilak releases an individuals destiny, it is also a symbol of power.

Once we had our immediate welcome, we were lead through the village, which was a collection of thatched roof and stone walled buildings, most with rendering of earthy colours. We entered the courtyard of the village school to find the village children eagerly awaiting our arrival. We were instructed to sit in some plastic seats lined up along one side of the courtyard, as we took our seats the courtyard filled up with all 45 tribal families, they were all staring at us, as if some famous people had walked in, this was so humbling, after all, who are we? just a group of fortunate people who have travelled from the UK.

We were officially greeted by various spokes people/village representatives before heading off to spend time with families.

To give some background, Nayagaon is a village of poor tribes members, one of the poorest in the area, they have no immediate access to water (dirty or clean) and open defecation is practised due to zero access to toilet facilities. There is no intention by the tribes people to be unclean or unsanitary, the truth is, they know no different, to urinate or defecate in public areas is the norm, much the same as it would have been for us before we were educated into the health benefits of sanitation. The village is several miles from the main roads and a couple of miles from any minor roads, there is no electricity and the main source of income is collecting firewood to sell at market 15km away.

So back to the families, we were lead to a small house, approximately 15ft by 7ft, we were introduced to Ramu and her son Vaynatu. Ramu lives in the small house with her husband Ram Chenon and two sons (Buhd Aged 20 and Vaynatu Aged 12). The eldest son was out working and Ram Chenon was away from the village due to a death in the family. In order to hold the conversation we were assisted by a translator, who is also a local WaterAid representative.

Ramu's family home
We sat outside and chatted with Ramu for a while, whilst being watched by approx 50 village men and children, we were clearly a sight outside the norm and everyone wanted to get a view. As we chatted we discovered that Ramu worked in the local forest, harvesting wood to sell at market, she would spend a whole day gathering a bundle and then sell it the following day. For this effort she would be rewarded between 90 & 150 rupees (that's approx £1.05 - £1.80) for two days work, from this Ramu would need to deduct 30 rupees for the return bus fare to the local market some 15KM away. How many of you would cut wood, carry it for miles and earn on average less than on 60 pence a day?

The stream where villagers collect water.

The conversation progressed and Ramu was asked where did she get her water from, she told us that there was a stream 2km from her home, this is where we collect water and bring it back to the home. She also told us that she may have to do the trip 3 or 4 times a day, this meant she would spend up to 2 hours per day collecting water. As the conversation developed we learnt that during dry periods the stream would deplete of water, when this happened the closest supply was the 10km away, this would increase Ramu's daily water collection time to 4-5hours per day.

We chatted for around an hour with Ramu before joining her in a trek to the stream in order to collect some water. Ramu & Vaynatu picked up several stainless steel water containers and lead us over rocky, dry dessert land, on route we passed several village women and children carrying large water containers on their heads, sometimes stacked 2 high. After around 10 minutes we reached the stream, there were a few people collecting water, it became apparent that whilst this water was clear it most certainly was not clean. The same water they were collecting to drink and cook with was also the same water they bathed, washed their clothes and watered livestock with. There was rubbish floating around and there was on occasion the smell of stale water, due to the heat of the day. Ramu, walked into a walled area where she crawled into a tight hole, it was here that the water would be collected, a small flow of water that trickled gently into the larger steam. Once the containers were full, Ramu stacked them two high on the top of her head, they held approx 10 litres in each weighing around 15kilos, that meant Ramu had the equivalent to 30 bags of sugar rested on her head, very impressive considering just how small she was.

Matt Kirk bearing the weight of
4 kilos of water
With this weight we then began the walk back, Matt, one of the guys representing the UK water companies (Anglian Water), volunteered to carry a 3-4 litre container back on his head, as we walked I had to give a lot of respect to Matt, the weight on his head and neck was clearly difficult to bear, we are simply not used to carrying 3-4 kilos on our heads, over rocks in the midday sun. When we got back to Ramu's house the containers were taken in and we had a little time to continue chatting.

I asked Ramu, what will life be like if you had safe drinking water within the village? The response was simple, I don't know, we have never had anything different and therefore I do not know what it would bring. It became clear that the people here have no idea of what we in western society expect as basic human rights, they simple do what they do because it is part of survival.

Once we had finished talking with Ramu & Vaynatu, we were taken to a sight were surveys had shown a water pump could be fitted, it was marked by a stack of boulders, boulders that hold so much promise to the Sahariya tribe. This was a pre-intervention sight and WaterAid are in the process of fitting a well, it was plane for all of the WaterAid party to see the benefits of the clean and close water, even if this has not yet become apparent to the villagers themselves.

This visit was hugely enlightening, promising and rewarding, I walked away understanding that these people are not begging for help, they are not even asking for it, they are simply people that need help and appreciate everything they receive. Today they felt blessed that we had visited them, the truth is, we were blessed for them allowing us to come into their homes and spend time with us.

I will post part 2 of day 3 tomorrow, the time is now 23:45, I have been up for nearly 17 hours & I will be getting up at 5am tomorrow to visit 2 further villages and projects... It's time for bed!


  1. Well done for that report James I felt I was there with you what an honour for you to have been invited by them to share a few hours of their simple but hard life cant wait for next update well done to you and your party x

  2. What a day James! I really felt for you with your alarm issues first thing and getting no breakfast or time to leisurely get ready but I suppose compared with what you saw over the rest of the day made that little luxury seem very extravagant! I can imagine how humbled you must feel right now and am so pleased that you are sharing your story with us, I just wish I was there with you! I can't believe it was only two days ago you left and you have seen so much already. Lots more to come though and I for one cannot wait to hear all about it! Take care and hope you get a good nights sleep x

    1. Thank you Kaori, it is a massive emotional journey, I do feel so honoured to be here and know that I have the support of you and the rest of the family.

      Take care and thank you again xxx

  3. Had a wonderful message from a fb friend today James, Norma .she lives in Laindon the village you were born it goes ..."Read all of James Blog last night ,I smiled at him being late ,I was profoundly moved by what he has to say and what he is doing I am so pleased to be able to share it with him,He comes across as a fairly modest man and he should be proud of himself xxx

  4. From Patricia Cash... I am loving it photos are great

    1. Thank you for the updates, so lucky to have a mum like you xxx