Water Sanitation project with EduCARE INDIA
“Become friends with people who are not the same age as you.
Hang out with people whose first language is not the same as yours.
Get to know someone who does not come from the same social class as you.
This is how you see the world.
This is how you grow”
As an engineer, I have always been passionate about simple, novel technologies that have a positive impact on people's lives and on the environment. I decided to leave my job in Edinburgh, UK and come to India to start a project with EduCARE India in Himachal Pradesh. This was my biggest test, to see if i had what it takes to move into the International development sector. I wanted to be challenged and pushed far out of my comfort zone not only personally but as an engineer. Based in the rural village, Naddi, at the base of the himalayan mountains was about as far away from an office job as it gets!
I came to India with an open mind and tried to have no preconceived notions of what I felt could be improved. My time spent living with my local host family, surrounded by views of the himalayas, was one of the best experiences of my life. This community-applied research not only helped me build my project but gave me the opportunity to see how the family lived and get to know them. I was amazed by the indian hospitality as they encouraged me to sit with them while they made momos to sell in their shop, drink chai together and humoured my extremely limited hindi.
It was here that I started to formulate my project after witnessing the vast volumes of grey-water (wastewater from sinks, clothes washing and other hygiene purposes) that are discharged from homes in the village and leach into the environment, potentially contaminating food and drinking water sources.There is no collecting nor treatment system in place. Several taps are out in the open, without any sink to collect the water, and are used to do the laundry/hygiene purposes. Some other taps, in the bathrooms and kitchen, are linked to a pipe from which the water goes out directly in the environment.
Chemical contamination of water is a worldwide problem however, through research, I found that there are very few locally managed, sustainable, low cost household treatments available in rural and remote locations. While bacteria typically represent the most immediate health problems a variety of chemical contaminants such as pesticides, industrial waste and even household chemicals can impact the safety of water and on the environment. Long term chronic exposure to chemical contaminants can lead to cancer, kidney and liver issues and diseases of the reproductive systems. Therefore the development of effective, affordable ‘green’ technologies for chemical contaminant removal in remote rural areas such as Naddi is important to me.
One of the biggest challenges in engineering development is ensuring local sustainability and creating a lasting impact long after the project is complete. Many development projects are formed with good intentions but are not always suitable for the community. My project is still in its very early stages but I am passionate about utilising a local waste residue and involving the community in building a water treatment system that is sustainable. Through other development work in other countries I found out about biochar….
Biochar is charcoal created from plant matter. For example, biochar can made from heating agricultural or forestry residue. Biochar filters work similarly to carbon filters which have been used for thousands of years as far back as the ancient egyptians. Can’t get much more ‘tried and tested’ than the ancient egyptians!. Local biochar is ideally made from agricultural and forestry residues and/ or sustainably harvested renewable woody biomasses whereas most commercially made carbon are made from non renewable coal. But what forestry residue could I use in Naddi, that was sustainable and easily available? In Himachal pradesh, pine needles are identified as major cause for forest fires, causing immense threat to environment, forest biodiversity and local economy. The needles that fall cover the ground in thick net and prohibit air to pass across, thereby, hindering the growth of grass on the ground. This phenomenon leaves no option for the local community other than setting the needles on fire; else it becomes almost impossible for them to feed their cattle. The needles, being highly flammable in nature, not only pollute the environment by burning themselves, but also take entire biodiversity into their gulp. I have only been in Naddi for a month yet i have witnessed one major forest fire.
I am excited to see the development of this project and live in a country so different to my own. I know that working in rural India will have its challenges and frustrations but that is all part of the process. I hope to develop my skills as an engineer beyond the textbooks and excel spreadsheets!
It has not been all work….
Life as an EduCARE India Intern has not been all work. I am really enjoying working with the Naddi Girls Club and getting to know the girls in the community. Even though it is so hard to keep them focused, this excitable bunch of girls are always able to make me laugh. Introducing me to Hindi and Punjabi music and trying to teach me Hindi, then giggling when i get it so wrong! I can’t bare to part with their drawings and soon the intern house will be covered in their awesome artwork!
I have found that team bonding in the intern house has been vital.
Especially since you all live and work together like a family. We managed to fit in a team round trip to Delhi and the Taj Mahal in a weekend (yes, that is a 500 miles by bus!). The rickety government overnight bus was an experience with 12 hours squashed, sweaty and feeling like a hair dryer is blowing on your face all night while the person next to you snoozes on your shoulder. You get to know your fellow interns pretty well after that experience. But seeing The Taj Mahal made it all worthwhile….
Lauren Beck (UK)
Water Sanitation (Gey-water)
and, Girls Club