Each morning, before dawn, Sangeeta and a group of women from Gawana village, Tehri Garhwal, trek a steep and arduous 3-km route to the nearest water source. When they came back, Sangeeta would send her daughter Kiran to fetch more water, while she prepared food and performed other household chores. Kiran was usually late for school as she not only had to fetch water but also help her mother with the household chores. She frequently suffered from diarrhoea and stomach pain because of worm infestation in her stomach. The situation was worse during the summer as the water source would dry up and they had to arrange for drinking water to be delivered by mule from further away. Despite the daily drudgery, Sangeeta still wanted to live with dignity and fervently hoped for a change in their abysmal standard of living.
Sangeeta was a dreamer and a doer. Wanting to solve the problem of fetching potable water from far-off sources, she contacted Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust (a local organisation working in the areas of water and sanitation) and Himmotthan Society (an associate organisation of the Trusts) and submitted a proposal under Himmothan Pariyojana. Initially, confusion, indecisiveness and chaos reigned, but soon the community realised that the solution lay in their own hands. They had to unite and confidently stride forward.
During the initial period when project staff visited their village, women did not come forward during meetings or discussions, due to their shyness, recalls Sangeeta. "However, now they have gained enough confidence and discuss their issues with project staff. They are proud to be associated with the Himmothan Pariyojana."
Geeta, who also resides in Gawana village, says, "Before Himmothan, we were known as somebody's wife or mother, but now we have our own identity and the community refers to us by our individual names. Himmothan has restored our identity." Her pride in their achievements is evident in her voice.
Despite all initial setbacks, such as the flood disaster of 2013, the community worked hard to achieve their dream. They constructed one gravity-based water supply line for the main area where the majority of the population resided, and 11 rain water harvesting tanks for scattered households in the village, where the gravity-based piped scheme was not feasible. Moreover, the village also attained 100% open defecation-free status. Now, after the implementation of Himmothan Pariyojana, water is available at their doorstep, and they have access to improved sanitary facilities, with each household having its own sanitary unit. Now, Gawana village is free from 'open defecation' and the community is well-versed with personal and domestic hygiene and environmental sanitation. The village has also constructed check-dams, and planted various species of plants under the geo-hydrology based catchment area protection scheme to ensure the sustainability of their water source.
The community has appointed a village maintenance worker, who collects monthly tariff regularly, performs chlorination and takes care of preventive and curative maintenance, thus ensuring the availability of sustainable drinking water and sanitation services. Women devote the time that they saved from having to fetch water to agricultural and animal husbandry activities to generate extra income. They also have time to take proper care of their children, and even to relax. Kiran now attends her classes regularly. She is aware of personal and domestic hygiene, and is better able to concentrate on her studies.
Sangeeta's world has changed for the better, and so has that of the other villagers. Based on the analyses of technical, physical and social work done under Himmothan Pariyojana, the villagers are confident that their scheme is sustainable even beyond the expected design period.
The Trusts have commissioned 200 gravity-based water supply schemes and 573 rain water harvesting schemes, and constructed over 5,000 sanitary units in 129 villages of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh under the aegis of Himmothan Pariyojana.