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Pollution in India

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I jumped back but too late, as coconut juice splashed all over my jeans. The upside-down transfer from coconut to steel cup hadn’t factored in the volume differential.

I sat on a plastic chair in the Engreda village Baptist church, tucked away in the rural hills of Eastern India. Men and women of the community had gathered here to thank us for funding a piped water system that brought clean and safe drinking water down from a new well in the mountains.

41-year-old Junash was the one that spilled on me, but I didn’t mind, and drank two cups of the warm juice. A few minutes earlier, he’d made a speech about what happened here.

I learned that the 567 residents of Engreda had big problems with water. Their primary source for years had been a polluted stream in the valley beneath the village, which I saw a few moments later.

“In the stream, we would remove a little bit of sand, and the water would ooze out into it. We used to drink that, and the children and adults used to get diarrhea,” Junesh said.

“We are poor. Whatever savings we had, we spent on curing our waterborne diseases. The poor remained poor.”

Not anymore.

Through last year’s partnership with retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, more than $540,000 was raised – enough for 100 water projects in Honduras, India and Ethiopia.

Engreda was one of those projects, but the water running from their taps came at a higher price than our funding.

The people had petitioned our implementing partner Gram Vikas to help them with the water problem. But before bringing clean water to Engreda, Gram Vikas asked villagers to give a year of their time to construct toilets and bathing rooms on faith.

For over 30 years, Gram Vikas has taken a unique approach to development work. For them, sanitation is the key to good health, and community participation is the key to sustainability. “Sanitation” meant toilets and showers here; "participation" - a year plus of hard work.

Junash said Gram Vikas’s proposal...

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