Saturday, 23 February 2013

Day 6 - Part 2, Back to School

Following on from a very full morning we arrive in the village of Padli, this visit is one of the most magical, inspiring amazing experiences of my life and one that I will never forget.

We arrived in the village via a dirt track and pulled in to a gravelled area surrounded by just a few pink buildings, standing around waiting our arrival were lots of children, they had smiles on their faces and clearly excited to see us. We exited the bus and took seats around an area that had been laid out with sheets on the floor. The children took their places on the mats and the adults followed, this was a very warm welcome from a lot of happy people.

Once everyone had taken their places the children greeted us, one by one the came over, placed a dalek on our foreheads and handed us the most fragrant rose, they welcomed us individually, some even welcomed us in English. Their ages ranged from 5-13 they all had smart clothes on and clearly wished to impress their guest, they certainly did that.

After the greetings, Santoshi, who we had met earlier in Amrod welcomed us on behalf of all the village and began to tell their story. Padli is a small village in a rural area, people have been used to their way of living for many years, they believed that having a toilet in the house was unsanitary, to go for a toilet in your home has got to be dirty, I guess was their mentality at the time, lets face it, if you were not used to the way a toilet works then the concept might appear to be pretty disgusting.

In order to change the mindset of the village Samartha (WaterAid's implementing partner) started by educating the children, they taught them that the diseases suffered in the village would lessoned if using the school play area and the land surrounding their homes ceased, they taught them how to correctly wash their hands and they taught them how to change the views of the adults in the village. They armed the children with whistles and in groups of 3 or 4 they would look out for adults going to the toilet and blow their whistles, much like the children of Amrod, they used the power of humiliation to reeducate the adults, this brings a whole new meaning to whistle blowing!

The children were also asked to attend school in the early hours of the morning, prime time for when people used the school area as a toilet, the kids would be ready and waiting with smiling faces to pleasantly remind adults that the school is for educating and play only. I thought this was amazing, empowering and inspirational, to give the youth the opportunity to secure a better future for themselves is genius!

The children were not alone in the effort to turn things around, people here as with the other villages are poor, many work long hours for very little pay and spend most of the daylight hours away from their homes, in order to truly get the message across Santoshi and the Samartha team would travel to the villages at night and hold public session to express the need for change, these sessions worked, people started to listen and things have changed. I could see that the hard work had paid off, I was sitting in the playground and it was clean, the children looked proud as did the adult population.

The community is now working on gaining government funding so that they are able to provide the infrastructure of mains water, a secure boundary around the school and decent roads to and from the village... None of this seems to much to ask for in my opinion.

Pinki Mewade, School Health Minister
After the general discussions we were invited to sit down in small groups with the children to talk about their experiences and what they were each doing to help stay healthy and how they felt about the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes that had been introduced.

Pinki Mewade, a 13 year old girl introduced herself as health minister of the school, intrigued, I wanted to find out what ministerial structure they had in place. The teachers had empowered the children by setting a ministry, there were 10 members responsible for various different areas, there was the minister for health, minister of education, minister of environment etc, how brilliant I thought, these kids are really taking control and being allowed to make a difference. Each minister was answerable to the other children as they had a complaint and feedback box, one of the children told me it was always empty!

Pinki explained her role to us, she would randomly check the pupils hands to see if they had cleaned them correctly, she checked their palms and fingernails, disease is spread all too often by hand to mouth contact, this simple approach can and does make such a difference. We asked the other children what they did when Pinki told them their hand were not clean enough, one of the boys said we clean them again. The children all seem to embrace the approach being taken and understand the benefits this has to them and their families.

The conversation continued with the kids telling us that since they have been involved in WASH they are able to use their playground for games, they can play at lunch, they are not sick as often and they are not taking so many days off school. These children see the benefit of an education, it may well be their passport to a better future and they do not wish to miss out.

We gave the kids a chance to ask us questions, this was very humbling as the questions were very different to the ones we would expect from a UK child. They asked: In England do the women have to wear sari's? What crops do you grow at home? Are your fields green? Do you have clean water? We of course answered them and could see them listening through our translator. We showed them pictures of our homes, our families and of our holidays. I got my ipad out and let them look through pictures of snow, Christmas, Devon, Croatia, they loved them and were so interested.

Following the sharing of pictures I asked if the children knew any songs they could sing to us, the answer was yes, first a few began to sing and then more and more until the sound of their singing was all around us, truly amazing!

When we finished being totally inspired by the children it was time for a bit of fun, as the ipad had been out the kids wanted to play and who was I to stop them. I filmed them and played it back, they were so amazed they started climbing over me to get a glimpse, I don't know how many I had on climbing on me at one point but their weight caused me to collapse on the floor, but this they found even more fun. All I could hear was the sound of laughter in my ears.

After a bit of play they asked if we wanted to see the school, 4 of us went for a guided tour with Pinki and friends. We were shown each class room one by one, they were very basic, just single room buildings, walls with painted numbers and alphabets. I asked if they had a song to learn the alphabet like we do, they said no, Alex, one if the group WaterAid supporters from Scottish Water decided to ask the kids if they would like to hear me sing the alphabet, I responded maybe they would like hear Alex, they responded, BOTH! Not wanting to let them down the two of us stood in a class room singing the alphabet, something I've not done for over 30 years.
Whilst we were walking around the school a game of cricket started with UK and the kids, along side this another game stared where the children ran around the playground and when the teacher called stop they had to cling in groups, not really sure what the purpose was but it was great fun, there was smiles from all.

One thing I have learnt on the journey is the children love their picture being taken, as soon as I pulled out the camera they swarmed, "sir just one picture", I would take one and they would say just one picture, this would repeat time and time again. It made me smile as often I would be taking a picture of one child and by the time I pressed the shutter 4 children would in front of me, all jumping around to get the shot... I must have taken about 300 pictures of smiling faces.

The time came for us to leave, the vide was electric, we were on such a high, what a difference empowerment makes! WaterAid goes beyond water and toilets, it's about life, when you feel your life us brighter, safer, healthier, many things become possible.

A truly magical experience!


  1. Wow this is so beautiful to read I felt I was among you and the children. I am old enough to remember the thrill of having your photo done and seeing yourself (Polaroid camera)on film straight away after, just magic ,These people seem to be getting the help they need from Wateraid to begin to make a better life for themselves I think I said this in an earlier post it only takes one strong determined person to set the ball rolling ,I really do believe the future for these community is looking much better ,thanks to you all and all the work thats been done so far ,The children seem to be taking so much pride in everything ,You must all be feeling vary satisfied today with what has been achieved ,and for me to hear first hand about what money donated and raised in this country does for the people its raised for is well...Amazing... I cant find the words to express how I am feeling at this moment so emotional as well as elated I just want to give you a big cuddle. I am now going back to read this blog again because it made me feel good Again well done to you my son and all those who have helped to achieved what you have witnessed today ,I know when I go back and read I will see there is much to be done but for now for today everything is beautiful .....

  2. Brilliant James! Good pictures too! It's been a priveledge to follow your adventure and obviously your mum is justifiably proud of you. This is something we have all shared when possible and most of us feel we are experiencing something more real than we have before.

    Thank you on behalf of us all at Basildon.

    Colin Clarke