While newspapers can sometimes fill us up with dismay and hopelessness, there are stories we do not get to hear of, that do offer respite. One such story is that of rural women of Kammavaanpettai, Tamil Nadu, who brought back the Naganadhi river to life that ran dry for the last 15 years.
On this World Environment Day we celebrate the extraordinary work done by these rural women who combined conservation work with entrepreneurship and created one of the most inspiring stories of our times in the area of environmental conservation, women empowerment and self sufficiency.
A few years back, Kammavaanpettai village in Tamil Nadu was on the verge of ruin, with rampant alcohol abuse, and men leaving the village for work. Acute shortage of water and little to no agriculture had made it unsustainable to live there anymore. To add to it, an endless sense of victimhood. The Naganadhi River that runs through the village and had been its very lifeline had run dry for the last 15 years.
It was around this time that the women of the village scripted an incredible tale of revolution that was based on one simple idea—reviving Naganadhi and bring back normalcy.
Geeta, 30, from the village says, “I felt so responsible. We got together, made groups of 10-15, got down to revive the Naganadhi River and completed it. Now we have abundant water, and it’s all due to our own efforts.”
It all started when a team of The Art of Living volunteers and experts got wind of the situation in the village and decided to do something about it. The team focused on empowering the women in the area and urged them to work with them in changing the scenario in the village.
To equip them with necessary capacity tools to create success for themselves, the team conducted several self-empowerment and skills training programs. This uncovered their sense of confidence, clarity and dignity, and before long they were on their way to working towards solving the water crisis in the village.
Naganadhi rejuvenation work started in all earnestness, and the women involved themselves at all stages of the project – right from digging wells, placing the cement rings, putting the stones to finally closing the well with a cement lid.
Naganadhi rejuvenation needed cement rings that are placed at a depth of 20 feet in which the rainwater, that otherwise runs off, would collect. The requirement created an opportunity for employment. The women decided to do the work themselves instead of procuring cement rings from outside. An idea was mooted to form a women self-help group under the MGNREGA scheme to produce cement rings on their own.
Under the scheme, the women strove physically to achieve what had once seemed an impossible feat. They make around 2000 rings per month and it brings them a profit of 40%, which is equally shared among the members of the self-help groups. Each group usually contains five or six women members. There are four teams working on this project and a total of 85 people are now gainfully employed. The project is set to expand this fiscal year.
Most women were apprehensive of the fact that they would have to dig such deep wells, but once they finished digging a well, they found it in themselves to proceed further.
The women also feel a renewed sense of inspiration to explore their capabilities. “We had to dig wells up to a depth of 20 feet. We didn’t believe we could do it. But, once we began, there was no stopping us!” Beams Anandi, a local woman working for the project.
This activity has not only helped in reviving the dying river, but has turned it into a small scale business.
Amsaveni says, “Now I do not have to ask my husband and wait for him to give me money to buy basic goods for the household, myself or my children. I can buy them on my own.”
As the pictures show, water is a lifeline and more so for people who rely on it for livelihood. Living the city life, it is harder to imagine the importance of reviving a dying river or a stream and what it can do to the standard of living of a village. But emotions ran high when Naganadhi flowed again, bringing back opportunities at living a better life for the people of Kammavaanpettai village.
“When I stand back and observe what we have done —all we women—I feel proud,” says Chitra, another woman who helped bring the river back to life.