My first visit to India took me from the buzzing metropolis of Bangalore to the rural hamlet of Parangani where our project is being run. I travelled to the village with Mayank, the nominated CSR representative in our Bangalore office.
What a contrast! The village is located about 2 ½ hours’ drive outside Chennai and is made up of 625 households. Of those, 275 are families of the Schedule Caste, a term given to a specific group of disadvantage people in India. They live in a hamlet separate from the main village and it is this community that we are working with. I had prepared myself for a culture shock; I had seen photographs of the village, but nothing can really prepare you for the stark contrast to our way of life.
The hamlet is mostly made up of mud hut houses with thatched roofs, often patched up with plastic agricultural bags to keep rain water out. The muddy pathways between houses are ramshackle and uneven, litter is strewn along the way and animals roam freely. Yet, the surroundings fade into the background against the welcoming and excited faces of the people who live there. The project is being driven by the women of the village and they had gathered to greet us eager to talk about the new well and toilets being built.
Whilst I take clean water for granted, the families currently have access for about 30 minutes a day from a communal hand pump and in the summer, when the water table drops, the pump dries up and they are forced to walk 3km to the nearest source.
Euromonitor has funded the building of a new borehole well to serve the hamlet. Drilled down to 500ft this will provide them with clean safe water 24 hours a day 7 days a week and has been specifically design to withstand the expected growth of the community over the next 30 years. Once operational each household will have their own distribution tap: when asked what this means to them Gulab, a spokeswomen for the group, talked about the amount of school and work that is missed collecting water, the frequent bouts of diarrhea they suffer, their inability to wash regularly, and the struggles to ensure they have enough water to drink and cook with.
“We will no longer have to walk across fields for hours, the children will go to school, I will be able to work. Health, people won’t be ill and clothes will be washed. It means everything”.
The project is waiting for the final link: the local electricity department to increase the power supply to operate the pump – a challenging bureaucratic minefield. Taking the matter into their own hands a committee of ladies in the village held a meeting with the Electricity Board Director demanding the power supply be connected. A promise to have it sorted within weeks has been given.
The villagers in Parangani relieve themselves in the fields, bushes and open spaces surrounding their homes and as part of our funding six model toilets are being built. These will be used to demonstrate to others the health benefits and they will then be supported to seek matching government funding to build their own. Mayank and I visited Mr Sait and his wife and 3 girls, the recipients of the first toilet in the village. “I was worried about cost to begin but now I know my girls are safe and will be healthy, I am proud to have a toilet”, he told us. He also shared with us that although still very young his daughters would not be allowed to marry into a family that didn’t have a toilet!
The women in the village were quick to understand the benefits of having a toilet. For them it offers safety, security and privacy. I spoke with a lady called Saraswathi about what having a toilet means, “I don’t have to go out into the fields at night where it is not safe, anything can happen. Children are attacked by wild pigs. We will also have bathing areas and will be able to wash daily”.
As we headed back to our cars talking with the villagers about the future, I couldn’t help but smile and sense the strong positive feeling there is. In another part of the village a baby shower was being held, laughter music and celebrations rang out as we left to a chorus of “bye bye” from the children.