Monday, March 21, 2011

Transformative Dignity

Today is World Water Day.  Many of you may know that the issue of clean water is important to me because my son, Tariku, who we adopted from Ethiopia, drank from a dirty water source that would likely have taken his life had he not received good medical care here upon his arrival in the U.S.  His stomach was full of parasites and he had diarrhea most of his life because of his contaminated water source.  You can read more of Tariku's story here if you like.  But today you and I have the opportunity to focus our attention, efforts and resources on India.  My good friend Jody and The Adventure Project are teaming up with Water Aid to make a difference today in India.

Did you know that 1/3 of all drinking wells built in the last 20 years are broken? Instead of drilling more wells, The Adventure Project is using the charitable gifts they receive for something revolutionary – to train and employ hand pump mechanics. The mechanics earn an income, bringing themselves out of poverty, and they save lives – turning water back on for thousands of people each year.  Smart, huh?  I think so! 

I'd like for you to take a minute to meet this extraordinary woman, Ram Rati.

Becky Straw, co-founder of The Adventure Project shares her experience of getting to know Ram Rati...
I met Ram Rati in her village on a cool morning at the crack of dawn. I was instantly energized by her quick wit and smirk of brazen defiance. While other women stood demurely off to our side, faces covered and trying not to interfere, Ram Rati walked around like she was mayor, rattling off stories and beaming with pride.

This culturally conservative region in Northern India generally frowns upon women speaking in public, going outside without a veil or sending girls to school. So, to see a woman like Ram Rati, a spitfire barely five feet tall, riding her bike gallantly into their village is a shock to most people. And then she opens her toolbox and fixes their well.

Ram Rati applied to be a mechanic because she grew tired of all the broken wells in her village. Each broken well meant a farther walk, a longer line and hours spent searching for clean water. In her district, and throughout Africa, one-third of all wells drilled in the last twenty years are now broken. She decided to do something about it. She applied to become one of the first female handpump mechanics.

Strong, hardworking and not afraid to speak up, Ram Rati’s life has been full of courageous action. Forced into a child marriage at the age of eleven, she boldly escaped at thirteen, convincing her brothers to take her in. She spent the next fifteen years grinding wheat and helping raise their children.

When WaterAid showed up in her village, Ram Rati began to see hope. She was taught how to fix wells and prevent them from breaking. She learned how to ride a bike with a skirt on and her toolbox strapped to the back. She removed her veil and found her voice.

But there were some doubters. “At first I thought, how can she do?” one of the men told me. “But she got trained and learned, and now she can do it very nicely. Even a man can’t do the job as well as she does.”

Ram Rati’s friend Sheila, who is also a mechanic, added. “When I first learned to cycle people were laughing, saying, ‘Today you are learning to cycle, will you be driving a plane tomorrow?’”
“What do people say now?” I asked.

Ram Rati chuckled, “Now they say, handpump mechanic, please come. We are waiting for repairs, please come!”

That afternoon I sat in the dirt alongside a group of women, watching Ram Rati and her colleagues fix another well. I was blown away by how strong they were. How they jumped in and grabbed the heaviest tools. They knew just what to do, and how to fix it. I scanned the crowd and noticed three school-age girls also watching. Mouths open, standing in awe. They were mesmerized. I recalled what Ram Rati told me earlier in the day, when she grabbed my arm and pointed at those same three girls. With conviction she said, “I want these girls to be more than us.”

On that day, in the middle of a small village, I think I observed the birth of a revolution. For the female mechanics, this is their Women’s Rights Movement.


I left India convinced that creating opportunities for women to succeed can alleviate poverty and save lives. Already, Ram Rati and her team have fixed 304 wells, turning clean water back on for over 30,000 people. But it’s more than the weight of water that’s transformative. It’s the dignity.

In looking through my travel photos from India, Haiti and throughout Africa, I realize there are millions of powerful women who are unable to speak. Because they are silently standing behind veils, or are too busy walking for water.

I’ve decided that I must use my voice, to help other women find theirs.

You and I have the privilege and opportunity to act today on behalf of the people in India who are sitting in their villages with broken wells that if fixed, would be giving them clean water today.  While Ram Rati and her team have fixed 304 wells already, there are still another 4,000 in the region that need fixed. I am looking for just ten of the people who read this blog post today to go HERE and donate just $20 to this important work.  I am a part of a network of bloggers who are hoping to collectively raise $10,000 TODAY, which will be matched by Prem Rawat Foundation.  That's $20,000 in just one day.  It's audacious.  It's big.  And it's possible.  If we raise $10,000, we will help mechanics fix hundreds of wells for years to come, turning water back on for 300 people each month.  Through the generosity of Prem Rawat Foundation, that money is doubled, and well, you can do the math. More jobs created, more people served and more healthy futures for thousands of people in India.

Just $20.  Just a small sacrifice.  Just a huge difference.   Thank you, friends.

UPDATE: In just one day, $11,500 was raised for this project, for a total of $21,500 when you add in the match!!  Wow.  It's incredible to realize that our voices individually AND collectively can make a tangible difference!  Thanks to everyone who joined in!

No comments:

Post a Comment