Finally, one outcome of the Sanghar visit in The Friday Times, June 03-09, 2011. They called it “The Women’s Water”.
In the arid landscape of Sindh, life clusters itself around water. Between vast tracts of barren land, there are sudden oases with banana plantations, and mango trees heavy with the promise of fruit. Then the vegetation begins to recede again, and the sun threatens to bleach the world to a uniform dusty hue.
Mua Chorro is on the edge of the life-cluster in district Sanghar. It is a water-scarce village, where the non-potable “kohra paani” was associated with a high rate of disease, mortality and morbidity, particularly for children. One would think that, with our national acceptance of status quos, things would never change in that remote little village tucked away in interior Sindh. But the women of Mua Chorro had a different idea.
The members of the “Gothani Auraton Ki Taraqiati Tanzeem” are a lively, chattering bunch, ranging from about 16 to over 60 years in age. The older ladies do not speak Urdu, but occasionally contribute dramatic one-liners to the general conversation. There is obvious pride in their eyes as they watch their confident daughters tell the story of the electric water pump that has changed life as they knew it.
It began with social mobilization. The Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization ( Safwco) has been working in Sanghar with the support of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) since 1996, and helped form the first female Community Organization in Mua Choro in 2002. This was to facilitate several kinds of collective actions for the economic empowerment of the women, including the generation of income through sale of their rallie products in urban markets. They have initiated a savings program collecting about 50 rupees a month, and been part of various capacity building activities in which they also learnt how to write their names.
“My man was so surprised when I did my signature,” says one. “When did you study, he said, use your thumb!”
Ready laughter follows – it’s an all-girls club.
When the CO members decided to approach Safwco with an application for a water-pump, the men-folk posed surprising resistance. They saw no need and were wary of the implications, in terms of maintenance and bills.
“What, now you will drink sweet water?” they jeered.
But the women no longer wanted to watch their children fall sick from diarrhoea and dehydration – not when there was something they could do about it. So they approached Safwco with an application, which was duly forwarded to the PPAF Community Physical Infrastructure unit for financial and technical assistance. Now, the most prized structure in the village is an electric pump that is used on alternate days to bring in water from the nearest source, 2500 feet away.
“My brother-in-law is the first to get there in the mornings,” says one girl with a merry glint.
“Even the livestock won’t drink the old water!”
The money for the utilities and maintenance of the structure still comes from the independent earning of the women – a monthly contribution of Rs. 15 per household. It is an investment most willingly made.
“When there is no electricity, it becomes like Karbala,” says one of the older women, with a widening of the eyes.
The unassuming whitewashed building housing the water-pump in Mua Choro stands as proof of the CPI unit’s commitment to making a “visible and verifiable difference” – just as the literature says. However, it is also a symbol of something far more powerful: a community’s realization that they are stakeholders in their own development. That if they can organize themselves to identify and articulate their demands, there is a possibility that they will be heard. Most of all, it is proof that a group of smiling, sensible women can be a formidable force to be reckoned with.