Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Day 4 - Bounce, Collecting Water From Wells & Childplay

So first things first... Good news, I got up on time, bad news, I've had about 3 hours sleep. Got to bed fairly late due to the delays throughout yesterday's visit and restlessness. I got to sleep just after 12:30am, after about an hour and a half I was woken by a tickling feeling on my leg, I laid there for a while and then lifted the duvet, initially I saw a small black thing moving across my right leg, not knowing what it was i startled and kicked, when I looked again I realised I had a cockroach in my bed, I quickly ensured I removed my little friend and watched him scurry across the floor. By this time I was wide awake, as much as I tried I was unable to get back to sleep for around 90 minutes, them my alarm went off at 5am, did I really sleep or just blink I thought to myself.

So the day has begun, we are off to Jonhar in the morning and Kamhar in the afternoon, in order to get there we needed to travel around 1:30hrs, this was Indian time, therefore I'm guessing this will be approx 2:30hrs, something I have discovered in just a few days is that when they say 1km they mean 5 and they say 1 hour they mean 1.5 to 2. We would be travelling along what I was told would be a bumpy road, having been off road yesterday I thought that's no big deal, we can handle it. After 20 minutes we arrived on a national highway, a nice wide dual carriageway, it looked good quality and I thought, this looks good, I can catch up on some sleep.... WRONG! We moved down the road for no more than 10 minutes and suddenly the smooth hard surface was replaced with rocks, mud and dust, the bus was bouncing up, down, left and right, I was being thrown around and my spine was taking a real bashing. This was meant to be a national highway but apparently there was a falling out between the government and the construction contractors a few years back, they had removed the surface of the existing road and now it just lays there like a dirt track. This was to remain for the next 2hrs, I reached points that I just wanted to scream, stop, give me just a 2 minutes break, but reality check again, this is what the local people deal with all the time, who was I to complain.

We did have a short stop off for a toilet break at a roadside hotel that looked across to a palace in the distance, it was a beautiful sight to be seen and very much a welcome break from the constant pounding of the road. Following a 10minute break we were off again, more bouncing and being thrown around, this time it was just for a further hour and then we arrived at Jonhar at 10:30, now bearing in mind we were told it would take us 1:30hr and it took us over 3, you can now see just how Indian time works.

Jonhar is a large village in population and small in scale, it has 1,157 village members in 170 houses and sits in Datia district. Most village people earn their income through farming wheat, mustard and rice, along with milk production from the cattle that are kept in their courtyards or in the streets. This is a very vulnerable group of people due to their low standing on the caste rating (a hierarchy of classes that is now illegal in India however still in fact well established throughout), they receive little government support, and during the wet season (summer months) much of the village suffers ill health due to the poor standard of water and sanitation.

When we arrived at the village we were again greeted by a large crowd, we walked past a number of houses to a small clearing amongst the tight streets, the buildings were mainly brick/concrete and tightly squeezed in to a small area. The local representative advised us that the village was very honoured to have us as guests. I then gave a short speech to the group to introduce us (WaterAid and the UK water company representatives), I have given many presentations in the past however this was something else, to have all those faces looking at me, I'm unable to speak their language and am therefore I was speaking through an interpreter, it was hugely unnerving and outside of my comfort zone. I said that we were honoured to be there, thanked them for allowing us in to their villages and homes, and that this was huge privilege for us to be able to be here. I received a large round of applause from the crowd, again as with so many other experiences on this trip I felt so overwhelmed.

After the introduction it was time to meet with a family to discuss their lives in the village, the WaterAid media team joined us to do some filming for UK press converge upon our return. We walked a short distance to a small collection of building and were led through a small doorway into a courtyard, here we met Dharmandra a 26 year old man, his 22 year old wife Sonam & their 1 year old child Ayush, they lived in the small house with 10 other members of the family (Dharmandra's 5 brothers, 3 sister-in-laws, father, mother and 3 nieces/nephews). The village has no clean direct water supply or sanitation, people use the streets and fields as toilets, again not through choice but due to not having the money to construct the required infrastructure. We asked the family who collected the water, we were advised this was the responsibility of Sonam, we clarified that this on behalf of all 13 people, yes was the response. "In a village where there is no direct water supply, where do you go to collect the water?" I asked of Sonam, she told us that the water came from a deep well approximately 1 kilometre from the house. Sonam advised us that it takes her around am hour a day to collect the water. I asked does anyone in the house get ill from drinking the water, her response was poignant, "yes, for 4 months of every year the water gets bad and we get diseases", "when you say diseases, what illness due you suffer" I asked. "We put chlorine in the water but still we vomit, our body aches, our stomach hurts and we get fevers, every member of the household suffers, every year" Sonam responded. We continued to chat for a while longer where Sonam revealed that she was fearful of giving her family the water, she worried for her 1 year old child Ayush and that she knew when she gave him the water he could get ill, can you imagine giving a small child something you knew could make them ill, not just ill, the water here at times has the ability to kill, this really did bring home the fact that 2,000 children die each year due to poor drinking water and sanitation, in this village I was hearing it first hand.

When we finished talking Sonam and Dharmandra took us on the 1km walk to the well where the water is collected. The well was approx 12ft wide and about 25-30ft deep, women and young girls were dropping 15 litre containers down and skilfully filling them and then pulling them up again, these pots weigh 15kg+ when full, no easy task when you consider they are pulling them up 10, 20 or 30 times a day. I was invited to fill a container and I must say it was not easy, initially I struggled to fill it, it rolled around on the surface, after a few lifts and drops I managed to get a small amount in, then a quick lift and drop again and success, it filled, then there was the task of pulling it back up, this was not such an easy task, the weight was not the issue, trying not to bash it against the side of the rocky well and spill the water out was the difficulty, when the 30 litre container reached the top I then had to lean over the edge to lift the water out and over the lip of the well, this was fairly scary as it was a long way down. I asked has anyone fallen in the well and I received the answer I did not want to hear, "yes", a women had fallen in, they had managed to pull her out and she was okay, but the thought of it was horrible. I was being filmed for some publicity therefore I was asked to fill another container, I did it but the thought of the women falling in was in my mind... Life here is so different, I was pulling untreated water from a well so that it could be consumed by the villagers, makes turning on your tap seem so distant and taken for granted, we just don't understand how easy life is for us.

After the well I then had a go of balancing 2 full containers on my head in the same way the women do, I can tell you these women have some strength and an amazing balancing ability, I found it uncomfortably heavy and exceptionally uneasy. I only managed to take a couple of steps and I wanted to take them off, I seriously do not know how they do it. I did manage to create a large audience, it felt like half the male population of the village had come to take a look at the crazy English man try to do what their wives do every day.

Once the well experience was over I stood and watched the women work at the well, whilst I did this a man walked over to the edge of the crowd and squatted to the ground, he then proceeded to go to the toilet in public, I quickly turned away in shock and then again realised that this is why I have come to India, to see life as it is, not as a tourist on a holiday. I did not turn back to look again as I had seen enough but I did get a grip of my emotional response.

I left the well area and took a walk back to the village, here I had a magical experience, I was taking pictures of the children and then showing them to the kids on the camera display screen, they loved it. I them pulled out the ipad and took some pics and showed them on the big screen, they got really excited, they were all asking for their picture to be taken and the crowd grew at a rapid rate. I squatted down to the ground and put the front camera view on, so the the kids could look at themselves in the screen, this was where the magic happened, before I knew it they were climbing over me, leaning to the camera all trying to get a view, I must have had a circle of 15 children, two to three deep, laughing, jumping and cheering to let me show them their image on the screen. I did not speak their language however we communicate with the universal language of fun and laughter... I continued to take pictures and play with the kids for around 30 minutes, I will treasure and hold this memory for the rest of my life.

We left the village shortly after this and as we did the kids followed us through the streets, they waved and gave me the thumbs up as we departed. In my heart I was saddened to leave them as knowing all of these children would suffer, would become ill due to the sanitary conditions and wet season water conditions, I only hope the work of WaterAid and partners in this village comes soon enough so that they need not suffer anything worse than sickness, stomach pains, fever and aching bones. It is hard to walk away when you know the risks and even harder when we have a life so privileged in comparison.

I will end this blog entry here as I find it fairly emotional writing right now and post a brief blog about my second visit later.


  1. This is truly an emotional blog James I can feel what you are feeling writing it and i know when you had finished you would be at or almost at weeping point. you have written it beautifully ,you could have written it with so much anger ,But this is what you are there for to try to change some of the things you have written about ,I have enjoyed the passion and honesty of all your Blogs but this is the best so far xxx

    1. i was in tears too gloria reading this blog and your son is doing an awesome job and what an experience and the photographs he takes make me feel like im there with him like you are thanks for helping them james and i wish you well and be safe

      from tracy j scarlett

    2. Thank you so much for your comments, in means so much to hear some feedback and know that what I'm writing is making a difference and getting the message out there.

      I am simply a visitor here, learning about life and sharing what I have learnt, I would love to be able to do more and give more to these beautiful people but I do what I can and must accept that my part here is to spread a message and give people hope.

      Thank you again, I am truly touched by your support. X

  2. James your blog is amazing - it feels as though I am in those villages myself and you are doing such a fantastic job at highlighting the WASH problems and the importance of behaviour change versus culture. Keep up the great work and flying the flag for us here at WaterAid - Caroline (WIP Manager for Midlands and East Anglia ask Matt and Sophie))

  3. Thank you Caroline, very pleased to know my blog has your support, I have a blog update coming up that will very much highlight the improvements in WASH (water sanitation & hygiene), where school children have been empowered to be the change.

    Matt & Sophie are great!