Grounded Rain

Much love to everyone. I finally, finally have internet to write and there is so much I want to say. So first, lots of people have asked me what I’m doing this summer/have been curious as to why exactly I’m here. I’m working with an NGO, CHIRAG- Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, on environmental engineering and rural development. I’ve started focusing my efforts in learning about water quality, monitoring, filtration and systems of water production on the mountain. Hydrogeology. It’s an amazing word. I’m trekking atleast 8-10 km a day visiting Naulas- small well-like structures built on the side of the mountain and Dharas- natural spring sources. If I was to simplify the problem drastically- here it is:

1) Dry season- not enough water from groundwater sources. Water is used for cooking, drinking, cleaning, washing clothes, feeding animals, taking showers, etc. So from surveys that we took, the average family of 5 will use close to 800 liters or more on a given day.

2) Monsoon season- too much water overflowing sources for 2 months (this would be a good thing EXCEPT)- monsoon season brings the biggest contamination of groundwater infecting it with bacteria, fecal coliform, E. Coli, etc. Waste matter seeps into the groundwater sources also of the topography of the mountain slope.

Result: Dysentery, food poisoning, bacterial epidemics, jaundice, hygiene based infections, death

Possible Solutions: Slow sand filter, increased water monitoring, public awareness, rainwater harvesting, percolation pits, health committees, teaching children about water safety, training modules, outsourcing construction to other ngos/companies, home treatment such as boiling/sun filtration

However, if you notice an ngo has to take a three-pronged/multi-pronged approach as I have discovered which involves technical solutions combined with spreading awareness on health, water safety, and maintenance and finally increasing community and village responsibility for a water source. Many villages assume that the role of an ngo is to fix a problem rather than work together with the community to find a solution. The misunderstanding is heightened when the ngo comes in with a so-called ‘expert’ perspective which then not only undermines the knowledge of those directly affected by the water issues but also distances them from the process of finding a reasonable solution. This is the exact moment where the switch happens between, “This is my water source and I want it to be clean,” and “You as experts are responsible for giving me clean water.”

Then the are social issues that are deeply complicated which present obstacles to idealistic perspectives. For example, let’s take the case of a water filter. Even if it were installed in a community, the mother/women in the family would probably save the filtered water for their children and their husbands preferring to drink the contaminated Naula water because it saves time considering the amount of work they have. But once a woman gets sick, a family/community stops functioning- no food, no clothes washed, no herbs/fruits/vegetables, no water collected, children aren’t taken care of, waste starts collecting, etc. Yet she will place herself at the bottom of the priority list.

So the biggest thing I’ve learned is- engineering is the easy part. Mindsets are harder to change. I am so grateful to be learning this first hand- no filter. On another note, I have a bunch of pictures but I haven’t had time to upload it yet so my next blog post will be filled with beautiful pictures…

Take care.

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About Aardra Rajendran

I'm a recent Bioengineering graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. I will be headed to Chennai, India over this next year to conduct public health work as a Fulbright Student Research Fellow. My interests include Eastern spirituality, medicine and contemporary approaches to healing, hiking, being part-lion/part-owl, and watching the stars at night. Peace.