Water for the Ages in India: Two Weeks at Arghyam

Two weeks ago I started my internship, and time has been traveling at unstoppable speeds. I am over my jetlag, learning to cross the road without getting pummeled, increasing my caffeine tolerance by drinking chai and coffee daily, making new friends, and experiencing life working at a dynamic water-NGO in India. The Arghyam office is in a converted bungalow in the neighborhood of Indiranagar in Bangalore. Lucky enough, I live within walking distance.

So what does a week look like for me?

After arriving to the office in the morning, I hear people chatting about water and sanitation projects in one of many languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, or English. (Everyone here speaks two, three, or four languages or more.) Much of the time, I am preparing for upcoming fieldwork to evaluate gender equity at two water and sanitation project sites in Tamil Nadu. Some of the time, I am working on another project compiling information on participatory groundwater management (a project focus of the Rural Grants Team where my internship is located). The rest of the time, I have been able to attend water and sanitation events held at Arghyam or in the local area. A couple of recent events included:

Voices from the Waters – A Film Festival

Two weekends ago, I visited the largest water film festival in the world. This 4th annual festival, organized by the Bangalore Film Society (BFS), showcased over 100 water-themed films from around the world. Mr. Georgekutty, secretary of the BFS, is the driving force behind the event. He conceived of the festival after hosting a forum in 2004 “to bring awareness about the scarcity of drinking water… and the privatization of water.”

Festival Booklet

Voices from the Waters become a traveling film festival after the weekend is complete. The films are shown in local schools in Bangalore and across the state of Karnataka. Arghyam is supporting this part of the festival which ensures that those without the means to travel are still able to benefit from water films compiled. Mr. Georgekutty hopes the festival will eventually travel to major cities across India. And, in my opinion, it would be great if it could travel to big cities and rural villages across the world.

Here is my interview with Mr. Georgekutty on YouTube.

Field Visit to Hebballi Village and Primary School

Last Thursday, I traveled with Arghyam staff to visit a progressive water conveyance and management system in the rural village of Hebballi and at their local primary school.

We attended a ceremony to celebrate a rainwater harvesting (RWH) system constructed at the Government Higher Primary School. This system was funded by Arghyam in collaboration with an NGO called Geo Rainwater Board. There are RWH collection units on three buildings at the school. Rainwater flows from the roofs, through charcoal/sand filter units, and into an 18,000 liter storage tank. Students access the water through a hand-pump in the main classroom. The school has a rain gauge and chalkboard so students can record monthly precipitation, brand new sanitation facilities, and students grow their own vegetables for mid-day meals. It was apparent that the youth are quite proud of their sustainable school system and rightly so.

Monthly Precipitation Chalkboard
Above Photo: Courtesy Amrtha at Arghyam.

We toured the water conveyance and management system in the surrounding village of Hebballi after the ceremony. All 250 homes in the village have indoor, piped water supply. A community-based committee, as common in rural areas in India, is responsible for managing the water supply system. Through the installation of water meters on each house, the committee is able to recoup Operation and Maintenance fees. Each user pays 30 rupees for up to 8,000 liters of water each month. (In US terms, that is about 62 cents for 2113.4 gallons of water).

For more information, read this case study by S. Vishwanath.

Author’s Postcript:
I am living in India for a four-month long internship with Arghyam, an organization that works on water issues across the country. Along the way, I will document my journey. Please see the Water in India page above for more information.

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