No Rainfall? No Problem! How This Village In Maharashtra Saved Itself From Drought

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Recently, I had a chance encounter at the place least expected. It was Twitter! For someone who was averse to any form of social media just a year back and refused to succumb to the pressures of the digital world, I found one of the most inspiring stories about social discipline, perseverance and community empowerment on this social platform.

It happened when I was scrolling through my daily feed of Twitter notifications. Just for a millisecond, I stopped at a tweet by Paani Foundation about Water Cup winners announced in August. As it was meant to be, I came across Kumbharwadi, a picturesque village nestled in small hills of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. In the next week or so, the people of this village not only inspired me but also left my earlier, rather unfounded, presumptions about community movements shattered.

 

After seeing this tweet that mentioned Kumbharwadi village and its exploits in the Paani Foundation Water Cup, I decided to visit it, as part of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan. I traveled across the scenic hills of western Ahmadnagar and finally reached this lush green village. At first glance, I thought, “Did this beautiful, grass-laced village even have any water problem?” This was a casual outlook and what appears to be isn’t always true. When it comes to understanding water and watershed science, a green landscape could have much to hide.

I was greeted by friendly faces and was escorted into a small community hall in the village. The first signs of ‘water-awareness’ in this village were at display right outside, on the notice board of this hall. Flex boards with information about water-crop intensity levels, an overview of the water budget for the year, soil health reports, the relationship of soil-crop-water, and many others relating to water science were hanging outside this hall. This struck a huge contrast against a usual sight at Indian villages where generally outdated information, torn posters or betel stains are at display on notice boards. The priorities and intentions of its residents and the panchayat were clear. They wanted complete independence over water.

The next couple of hours could not have been more humbling. I spent an hour listening to Kumbharwadi residents talk about the history of water problems, the root causes of water shortage, the attitudes and actions of the village residents, and also various initiatives taken by the government and NGOs. Rainfall has been scanty in the village for the past three years. Due to this, groundwater levels have dipped to alarming levels. The village has been relying on water tankers for most part of this year. Every resident I met was acutely aware of the calamity they were facing. There was a clear consensus in the village about the fact that they had to find solutions as a community, together. In all this, the grit and determination of Kumbharwadi is spellbinding – despite the fury of mother nature and absolute desperate shortage of drinking and agricultural water, its residents remain steadfast in finding solutions through the community.

Residents of Kumbharwadi have achieved many milestones in watershed development work over the years. They have finished a barrage of water conservation works in partnership with Paani Foundation (some other work had been done earlier in partnership with WOTR as well). The Water Cup has been one of the key sources of training, motivation, and collective engagement in this movement. It encapsulates awareness, training and implementation phases at the village level.  First, the village is made aware of man-made solutions to water shortage. Second, the village selects individuals to go through an intensive training program in water conservation. Finally, the village undertakes the construction of water conservation works under the leadership and guidance of these trained residents. Villages across the districts and the state are then evaluated on various parameters to determine the winners of the Water Cup. This competitive process ensures that an ecosystem of water conservation experts is groomed within the village. A healthy competitive spirit unleashes the maximum potential of the community.

As I walked through the fields, young men of this village enthusiastically described the plan and purpose of many water structures built over the past few months. I was left overwhelmed and admitted to them that they had done their part and now it was the gods’ turn to shower them with good rain. After all, that is a must for much of the water recharge to take place. They are hopeful to reap the rewards of this work and eagerly wait for a good rainfall. They also take extreme pride in the work they have done in trying to achieve water self-sufficiency. I witnessed some of the most well-designed and constructed water structures (ponds, compact bunds, trenches, loose boulder structures, etc.). What is astonishing is that all of these have been done through jan-bhagidaari (community involvement) and shramdaan (volunteer labour)!

When I finished this eye-opening tour, I asked the residents about a few things I could take back with me. They unanimously agreed upon two points. One, the need for drip irrigation for the entire village and second, the need to re-demarcate boundaries for the development of water-conservation works on the basis of watershed area and not on the basis of revenue-administrative boundaries. I also believe that the onus lies upon us, the citizens of this country and the world, to pay close attention to climate change and water scarcity, and do our little bits in conserving water and our precious environment. The adverse impact of our carbon footprint is felt in the most far-flung communities such as those in Kumbharwadi, more than we can fully grasp. In the next phase, as I witness and participate in much work being achieved through the Jal Shakti Abhiyan in both, behavioural change in water use and building of water infrastructure in India’s villages, I also eagerly await a good, hearty rain in Kumbharwadi.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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