Sunday, December 8, 2013

Traveling India

The past two days have been a bit of a blur, traveling all over rural Trichy and beyond in Southern India, taking three flights to Nagpur, and traveling around the rural area here. (One note for foreign travelers to India - you have to go through security again at each new airport when you are making connections. Had I been alone, I would've stood around trying to find the way to transfers - since I had my boarding passes already for the day.)

I feel lucky to have experienced places in India that most tourists would never see. However, in doing so, I have also seen what a struggle it is for the people we work with to meet their basic needs. While many of them have been able to build toilets or construct a private water point, they have to work very hard to repay their debts. They are beautiful and vibrant people, full of hopes and dreams for themselves and their family's futures.

We met a particularly remarkable woman today who has been able to build a lovely home, a toilet, a water point and a successful goat business. She recently sold off most of her inventory to marry off her two daughters. She told us, "Before we were able to get a loan to build a toilet, the men did not see us as equals. Now that we have been able to build toilets, we have been empowered. Now we have a voice." She was asking the staff I was with about ways she can help other women in her small village start a business so that they are able to have a better life as well.

A lively discussion took place about maybe starting a canteen lunch program for local students and bachelors. Most of it was not translated for me but I could tell by the reactions from the women that they were thinking about it as a real possibility, giggling when bachelors were mentioned. Sometimes I forget that I can't understand what is being said. Some things just make sense without words.

When you walk from house to house, village to village, things can start to blend together. For a brief moment I thought, "another toilet? another tap?" But then, I saw the pride in each woman's face as she shows us how water comes out into her vessel or how clean she keeps the toilet and I want to see more.

The man in the bottom right corner is Kathirvel, a 65-year old "retired" mason who has worked to build over 200 toilets in his community over the past year. He works for the women who have taken out WaterCredit loans and it takes him two days to build each one. He is visited by many people who come from far away to meet this community hero. He chatted with us briefly and went right back to work. Namaste.

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