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When Ram Rati first moved to Harijan Basti in Delhi, she knew hardly any of her neighbours.

As an illegal slum, the community didn’t even have a name, and everyone knew they could be moved on by the government at any time.

Today, things couldn’t be more different. Ram Rati is the head of the Women’s Water and Sanitation Group and single-handedly set up the community’s water distribution system, which she now runs.

She’s also a village leader and a champion of women’s empowerment – and it all began with a single conversation.

Children wash their hands in Karijan Basti slum, Delhi, India.
Children wash their hands at pre-school in Harijan Basti, Delhi.

“Before, no-one used to listen to us,” Ram Rati explains. “Then Jaswinder [from WaterAid’s partner organisation FORCE] said she wanted to improve the community."

“I didn’t even know that was possible. But she said: ‘if you are with me, we can work it out’.”

When it came to accessing safe water, there was a lot at stake for the residents of Harijan Basti.

Before they began working with FORCE, people were crossing a busy main road to collect water, and there had been tragic consequences.

One girl, aged just 10, never returned home from the trip and is believed to have been kidnapped, while a boy – making the journey in the early morning – was hit by a car and killed.

“We met with the staff from FORCE and thought, we will provide water in every household and not allow such accidents to happen again,” Ram Rati says.

A boy sits at a community centre in Harijan Basti slum, New Delhi, India.
A young boy sits in a community centre in Harijan Basti, Delhi.

Now every day, as well as working as a household help and looking after her family, Ram Rati makes sure every resident receives the safe water they need.

As part of the Women’s Water and Sanitation Group she also provides training for girls when they get their period and distributes sanitary pads, making sure everyone knows how to use them and dispose of them hygienically.

The impact on the health and happiness of the community has been profound.

“There have been a lot of changes. We all work together,” Ram Rati says. “If the NGO stays with us, after five years we will say that we have the most beautiful community.”

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