Miles to smiles

Vinaya Patil
Monday, 14 May 2018

The miles-long walk for water everyday has been eased for these remote hamlets in Raigad district, thanks to intervention by Swades Foundation and the efforts of the villagers

No life is any less significant than another, we are taught in schools. But sadly, things don’t exactly function on these lines in real life. One Google search of ‘Nanemachi Awad’ hardly gives any results. That’s how isolated and neglected this small hamlet and its people are. With around 10-12 households, Nanemachi Awad is located in the Mahad taluka of Raigad district in Maharashtra, a good five to six km uphill drive, if you have a vehicle that is. Most residents of the villages don’t. Some have bikes.

While the hamlet is located in a beautiful place right in the lap of nature, among mountains and forests, this beauty itself makes things difficult for the villagers, especially in the monsoon when the heavy rainfall in the region makes it even more inaccessible. Also thanks to the scarce population, hardly any politician cares to construct concrete roads or provide other such amenities to the hamlet.

In this situation, members of the Swades Foundation reached out to the ignored hamlet to solve one of their major woes — water. An initiative of Zarina and Ronnie Screwvala, the Swades Foundation has been working in six blocks of Raigad district for more than a decade now, reaching out to the most remote villages and helping them put their basic necessities in place — agriculture and livelihood, water and sanitation, education, health and economy. Avinash Kamane, district programme associate — Water & Sanitation, who is in-charge of the work that’s undertaken in this field, says that the Swades team first conducted a survey of the region to check for existing natural water sources. “We spoke to the elderly people from all nearby hamlets for this and figured that there was a well with active water springs a few hundred metres below the hamlet Nanemachi Awad,” he explains.

Obviously, carrying water uphill needed pumps and a three-phased power supply wasn’t available here. The village only received two-phased power supply for their basic light and fan requirements. Swades then decided to set up a small solar pump unit next to the well. “With the help of our engineers we put the solar panels and pump in place and through the villagers’ shramdaan (labour), pipes were installed into the ground to carry the water up to the water tank constructed above the hamlet,” he explains.

This water tank too was constructed by the villagers themselves, with guidance from Swades members. The entire setup cost Rs 21,000 per household. The villagers were thus asked to contribute Rs 3,000 per household along with their labour, and the rest was provided by Swades.

“A water committee has been setup in the village which consists of a few village youth who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the water tank, the solar setup and the daily operations of the pump. The person in-charge keeps changing and he is paid a small monthly honorarium by the villagers,” explains the current committee head.

The installation of taps in every household along with filters that will ensure clean drinking water supply twice a day has made life much more convenient and smooth for the women here. A young daughter of the village who’s now married and doesn’t live in Nanemachi Awad anymore, expresses her happiness. “I rarely visited my mom here earlier because it would mean going all the way to the well and fetching pots of water for all of us. But the taps have now made life so much easier. I can now come here more often,” says an extremely excited Sarika Salekar.

Also a reason of glee among the village women is the construction of toilets for every household, again through the combined efforts of Swades and the villagers. A gram executive makes monthly visits to these hamlets to ensure smooth functioning of these facilities. “Now there is no fear of snake bites and also, we don’t anymore need to be worried of hiding, the weather etc,” says an elderly woman in the hamlet, as she innocently blesses us for even being interested in talking about their issues.

Swades has so far built toilets in 20,118 homes in the region and plans to build another 3,000 more in the next two years. Over 333 water schemes with taps have been installed in over 29,102 homes, impacting 1,45,000 lives.

Not very far away from this hamlet is another village called Walan Budruk where Swades has ensured a respectable life for a few differently-abled youth in the village. Cashew is one fruit that grows in abundance in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra and thus a cashew processing unit has been facilitated to this group through 10 per cent contribution by the four youngsters and 90 per cent by Swades. Madhukar Pote, who began the pilot project last year, says that the raw material is available in the region, and the final produce is sold in the Surat market, thanks to a daily bus to Surat from Mahad.

Swades provided these youth with the necessary knowledge and training through its professional workshops. “This year, we had bought material that could only last us two months and there’s only one particular season when you can fetch the cashew fruits. But next year, we plan to invest more and buy more stock so that we can sustain the business through the year,” explains Pote, who made a net profit of Rs, 34,000 in his first project. He adds that nothing goes waste in a cashew processing unit, as the seeds become our beloved cashewnuts and the fruit is used to make liquor.

Swades is currently supporting 22 such cashew processing units with backward and forward linkages, and aims to support at least a total of 100 units in total in the next two years in the region, among its other livelihood projects.

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