Every drop matters: how a young girl is helping others drink safe water
When she was first told about the training session on water quality testing, 18-year-old Nausheen was taken aback. “My first reaction was: you mean you can test the quality of water too?” she smiled sheepishly. Daughter of a tannery worker in Uttar Pradesh’s Urhar village, her surprise quickly turned into shock when the results of one of the water samples from near her house declared it to be unfit for consumption. Understanding the significance of this test towards their health, not only did Nausheen then learn how to do it, but is now also sought after by her neighbours to test their water samples too, thereby ensuring everyone’s health in the community.
On that hot April morning when we visited Nausheen and her family at their home, the young girl was busy doing household chores along with her 16-year-old younger sister, Saniya. There was a hand pump close by, which, the girls point out, is not used for drinking water after its sample fared poorly in the water quality test. Instead, the family relies on the government-installed hand pump opposite their house which has been deemed safe to drink from. “The other hand pump’s water is used for washing and bathing,” Saniya said.
Talking about the training that was conducted by WaterAid two months back, Nausheen said that while other adolescents in her village were called for it too, not everyone showed interest. “I attended it, but don’t remember much,” Saniya, for instance, admitted. Nausheen, however, was keen. When the trainer showed her how to conduct the test, the young girl listened closely. “There are nine parameters to test the water quality on. For example, fluoride, chlorine, nitrate, alkalinity, turbidity, and pH,” she said, “The test is simple and I was given a pamphlet to follow the instructions from. I also have the kit.” She then pulled out the kit from the top shelf of their bedroom to show us.
Nausheen’s father, Rehmat Ali, works in a tannery and lives with his wife and their five children in a two-room house in Urhar. The family also owns agricultural land but that, in addition to his job that pays a monthly sum of about INR 8000, is still difficult to sustain the family on. Rehmat’s son, the eldest of his children, has now started ferrying passengers in an e-rickshaw to supplement the family income.
“There are many things my family compromises on,” Rehmat, 57, said softly, “Like the absence of a functional toilet. We would walk almost a kilometre every morning to relieve ourselves among the bushes.”
The mention of the toilet hit a raw note among the girls. “We would wake up early, at 5 a.m. so that no one would see us when we go to relieve ourselves,” Nausheen said, “Come rain or storm, we had to go with a pail of water. It was particularly difficult during our menstrual cycle.” Saniya, sitting close by, and now joined by the third sister, Naziya, 15, nodded. “Even with menstrual cramps, we had to walk that distance. Sometimes we would get late for school. And Sundays were especially challenging because everyone has a holiday that day and there are more people on the road. We had to walk further away,” Saniya said. “Once a snake crossed our path and we ran back home! After some time, we had to go back again,” Nausheen added.
Imagine the relief then when WaterAid, with the support of HSBC, built a toilet for the family just outside their home. “It is such a blessing,” Rehmat Ali’s wife, Tashmiru, said, “We, and particularly the girls, don’t have to walk all that distance every day, mornings and evenings. We can go whenever we feel the need to.”
Rehmat Ali's is just one of the families who have benefitted from WaterAid and HSBC’s intervention in improving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities for tannery workers and their families in Unnao. This intervention, since September 2019, has impacted at least 7000-8000 tannery workers and their families in this district.
“Our lives have definitely improved,” Rehmat said later, “We have a toilet in our house and my daughter can now ensure that we drink good quality water so we don’t fall ill.” Nausheen smiled. “I have been told to test the water quality twice, before and after the monsoons because that is when there is a high chance of contamination. But occasionally my neighbours request me to test their water quality. Then I ask their children to get me half a bottle of water from home and I test it,” she said, happy that her new-found knowledge is acknowledged and is not just benefitting her family but her neighbourhood too.