Today we travel from Gwalior to Bhopal, it's going to be an interesting journey heading from rural areas to the large city. In the evening we shall be meeting WaterAid partners and local official, again this will be interesting to hear from their view point, about the situations in India regarding water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and sharing our view on what we have seen in our few days in India.
So let the day begin, we get a lay-in this morning, I'm up at 6am instead of 5... Whoop, whoop! We meet for breakfast and then transfer to Gwalior station, a busy area of this large town and full of hustle and bustle. We make our way to the train platform and await our departure, we were due to leave at 9:30 but in typical India fashion the train arrives at 9:45. This time we are to be in seated carriages, I was a little concerned as to what the standard would be like however I was very pleasantly surprised, this train was of a high standard and I felt comfortable in my generously sized seat.
The journey took around 5hrs and along the route I managed to view some amazing sights of people going about their daily lives. I watch farmers harvesting their crops, women carry large bundles of rags on their heads and children playing beside the tracks, a view health and safety bods in the UK would have palpitations over.
We arrived in Bhopal around 3pm and were met by hot sunshine, noticeably warmer than where we had been further north and complete gridlock outside the station, they managed to get the bus through the traffic to pick us up and take us to the hotel. I was exhausted from the previous couple of days but did my best to take in the sights, I was also feeling highly emotional about what I had learnt since arriving. I looked out the window and watched as large buildings that were pieced together with dodgy bricks and concrete passed by the window. I was also amazed by the scaffolding constructed of bamboo, held together with rope and stretching 5 stories high, also there appeared to be no ladders (or none that I could see) or platforms and yet the construction workers were clinging on and going about their business.
We arrived at the hotel and were advised of our room numbers and to be back in the reception by 6:30 for our briefing, followed by meet and greet with the local representatives and government officials. I went to my room, found two very small beds, a window with no view and the strong smell of mothballs. I remind myself again that this is not a holiday, I am here with WaterAid to make a difference, to experience and learn about life of the different communities and having seen what I have seen, some of the families would welcome to rest and live in a place like this.
Onto the evening, we met with around 20 reps and officials, all were very open to conversation. I had a discussion with one guy who was from the Mahatma Gandhi centre we visited on Monday, he told of horrific stories of women and girls being raped in villages across the region, due to their need to go to the toilet at night. He told of how the women would not go to the toilet during the day, they would wait until night to preserve their dignity, due to this men would be waiting in the darkness and attack. I felt physical sick when I heard this, to hear that someone's basic need to go to then toilet meant that they would be sexually abused was too much, I felt so useless at this point, here was I, an English guy who has so much and takes so much for granted, hearing about such horrors, there was no way I could compute this, other than to think about my mother, sister, nieces and other female family members and friends, what if life was like this for them, I just would not be able to cope.
He did give me hope, he told me that where WaterAid and partners have intervened and gain government support to install toilets in the villages, the need to publicly go to the toilet had reduced to zero, the women were no longer scared and their dignity had been restored. I left the evening feeling that there was hope and that I could play a small part in bringing about the change needed, I could write my blog to raise awareness, I can campaign when I return to the UK and I can promise to never forget the things I have seen, the stories I have heard and the successes I have witnessed.
Life is precious and all of us deserve to have a chance to be the very best we can, if it cost just a few pounds to save someone from rape, disease, indignity or death then surely it's worth the sharing of my message, gaining support and always having hope.
My mind is spinning therefore I am going to call it a day, I could write a lot more but I believe that I have said enough and you will understand that whilst I am out here witnessing the things I describe it is very tough for me to detach my emotions.