Tuesday, 12 March 2013

2 Weeks On - What's been happening

I've been back just over 2 weeks now and life has been a little different since my return, I have had emotional highs and emotional lows, fairly bizarre in the first week back, for example I was driving along, singing to the radio as I often do and suddenly, BANG, I was overwhelmed with emotion when I thought about the kids I had met in India, their innocent faces, the lives they lead (full of joy and yet full of horror),I had to fight back the tears.  I guess it is difficult for any caring person to see what we all saw in such a short period of time not to have some form of emotional hangover and the WaterAid staff had warned us that there is likely to be a period of cultural readjustment when we got back to the UK.

So on with the productivity...  So I am back in the UK for just 4 days and I am off to the BBC Radio Suffolk studio in Ipswich to talk about the trip to India and my learnings whilst out there.  I was on air with the lovely Lesley Dolphin, I arrived and was immediately set at ease with a cup of coffee and a warm smile.  We chatted for around 40 minutes and I managed to cover so much and yet so little all at the same time, I loved it, it was great knowing listeners would be learning about WaterAid and the important work they do...  It's not hard when you have seen the statistics change from numbers to real people to then talk with a passion about the work that needs to the done and is being carried out.

My mind is full of the facts, I recently watched the amazing film "Mary and Matha" on BBC 2 (BBC iplayer - Mary & Martha) about the impact of malaria in Africa commissioned for Comic Relief, the message was powerful and again being in a heightened emotional state I found myself shedding even more tears, must remind myself it's just my body shifting excess salt water.  They talked of how many children die from malaria each year, the numbers were shocking, in-fact more than that, they were devastating, then my brain remembered the statistics I had seen from WaterAid,  more children die each year from preventable water related diseases than malaria, measles and AIDS combined.  I am not raising this because I don't wish for people to support Comic Relief , in fact please do, I have donated my £10 via text, this can buy 2 mosquito nets and save lives! I would encourage others to do the same.   If you're in the UK you can text "FIVE" or “TEN” to 70510 to donate £5 or £10.  The reason I raise my point is that it upsets me that more children die through water related diseases and yet so few people are aware of it, if I asked you about famine, malaria, AIDS, swine flu, bird flu etc, you could probably tell me that you have seen and/or heard stories in the papers, on the tv news or on the radio in the last few years, publicising the issue and yet, if I asked you have you seen an article or watched news footage about children dying from water related diseases? would you be able to say yes with such ease...  Some may, but for the majority I know would say no.

So I am on a mission to raise awareness of this serious issue, to save lives, to give people a chance, I invite you to join me by simply publicising the issues, checking out the WaterAid website (WaterAid.org), donating a few pounds, sharing this blog, tweeting, holding breakfast mornings to raise money and support, or anything else you can think of... No matter how big or small, help me help others to live, grow up and welcome a future!

So what else have I been up to, well I presented to the Essex & Suffolk Water staff about my trip, I enjoyed sharing the story of Ramu, Ramvati, AmarSign & Budh, all of which appear in my blog and I am pleased to say that I feel that people listened, they were moved and they want to do more...  I really feel that I am getting the message out there and for that I feel very proud.

Next I am off to School, I am presenting to over 50, 10 year old children, going to making it very interactive and fun for them... Really looking forward to it.  I am hoping to get a couple of slots on the regional TV stations to share my message and if anyone out there can help take this further I would love to hear from you...  Please email james@jamesdmuir.co.uk

So to wrap up this update; Life has changed for the better for me and as the days go by I accept more and more that I/we can all make a difference, my emotions stabilise more and more but my passion grows and my determination to make a difference becomes stronger... I will also be transferring my blog to a Kindle book over the coming months as I figured it may just make a few pounds for WaterAid.

Take care all

Monday, 4 March 2013

One Week On - My Reflection of India

A village elder, he wanted me to take
his picture in the village of Nayagaon,
he believes WaterAid can
make a difference
This blog is an expression of my own views, they are not in anyway representative of any organisation or individual other than myself.

Way back in October 2012 I applied to take part in a trip to India with WaterAid as a water industry supporter, when I did I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  In November when I received the call to say that I had been selected I remember being so excited, I was over the moon and again thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  From then until I set off just over two weeks ago for India I prepared myself, I got my head around the facts, I knew things would be tough, I knew children were dying, I knew people suffered and I knew this would be an experience of a lifetime. My heart and brain were ready for an emotional rollercoaster, or so I thought.

Everything I thought I knew was correct, but there was so much more, so much that I was unable to prepare for, so many mixed emotions, tears, laughter and learnings.  Now that I am home and have been for just 8 days, I find myself reflecting back and processing everything I experienced, now I feel it is appropriate to share this reflection with you.....  So here it is:

So remote are some of the villages that roads, electricity,
water and toilets have yet to reach them.
Every now and then life offers up some amazing opportunities and the trip to India was certainly one of the most amazing things I have ever had the chance to take part in.  My journey was small in time but very big in terms of experience.  I laughed, I cried, I felt mental pain, on occasions I was lonely, at other times I felt embraced, I felt anger, embarrassed, confused, joy, happiness, humbled and so much more.  I saw the most beautiful, colourful and visually stunning sights, I also witnessed some horrific, disgusting, unthinkable and shocking sights, on both ends of the scale, good and bad these memories are now with me forever, something I am truly thankful for.  This trip was truly a journey of contrasts, where the extremes live side by side, where life for one person can be a world away from the life lived by another living just 10 feet away. I would not wish to change my experience, but I would change the poverty, the hardship and the basic lack of water & sanitation the people I met have to endure, whilst others live so easily.

Meet Ramu, she walks up to 5 hours a day
to collect water for her family from a potentially
contaminated stream.

At times she carries 30 kilos or 66lb of water
on her head
India is not a poor country, in fact it is a nation of rapid growth, it is a real player in the global market and for this reason it's poorest inhabitant suffer as a consequence of people not looking beyond economics. This is not acceptable and thank you WaterAid for showing me that you and your partners are doing what must be done. The work that needs to take place in India is crucial for the survival of children, adults and the right of all humans to be able to turn on a tap, drink water and not fear death or illness. WaterAid is spending time educating the people of India, influencing the government and raising international awareness that things can be better.

I have talked in my blog about legacies and sustainability, it was very apparent from my time in the slums and villages that when they have been empowered, mobilised and educated, they take ownership, responsibility and action to ensure their lives and that of generations to come are improved. This surely a good thing and something I believe we can all support.

This young boy and his family
will suffer for 4 months
each due to preventable water
related illnesses.
Village of Jonha
Some may say, why doesn't India look after itself, isn't it the Indian governments responsibility to sort out the lack of water and sanitation? The answer is yes, in my opinion it is and they should do more, they should direct money that is wasted on other wasteful projects to the people in need, but whilst I may feel this way I also know that change happens when the right actions are taken, the work of WaterAid is to help the people of India bring about this change, through partners they will immobilise the population to demand their rights to the basics we take for granted, they will teach the people to build toilets, maintain hygiene and how to secure clean water supplies. They will reduce the number of people dying, the number of mothers grieving, the number of school days lost, the amount if pain felt and the stress of living day to day. The work of WaterAid really is this powerful, taps and toilets is just a starting point, with these basic things, the truth is, WaterAid for many, changes the world.

This woman's name is Vidhya
Her story was tragic and one I cried over several times!
She looked at me in the face and told me how
she feels the pain everyday
for her 3 year old child who
died from diarrhoea

She lives in the slums and still finds
a way of looking forward 
I know some people who have said that they will not support a charity that is putting money into a country that has enough finances to sort things out themselves. I challenge this view point for the following reasons, for every 20 seconds these people oppose the support that WaterAid gives, another child dies in this wonderful world of ours due to preventable water and sanitation related diseases. That means in the last 5 minutes 15 children have passed away and 15 families are currently breaking their hearts. In the last hour that's another 180 children dead, their lives extinguished, for what, because they were born into a country that we feel do not deserve WaterAids support. The salvation of these children is not for us to decide based on politics, surely not, how can it be when we are surrounded by luxuries, when our wants are generally material. For the cost of a blu-ray film, tools to build a well can be purchased, that is just £15 and for £25 training can be provided to a village committee to ensure generations to come, reap the benefits of WaterAid interventions. Can we really justify our denial of these fellow humans, because we have an opinion about their government... No is my answer, life is far too precious, no one person deserves to be a victim based on politics.

Ramvati Vishwakarma, a women who'slife
has changed since WaterAid
worked with her local community.
Her quote to me was:
"I dreamed of a home, I now have one
I dreamed of my family not being ill anymore, they are now healthy
I dreamed of having water & a toilet,I now have this
I dream my children would have an eduction,they are now at university
I live in a slum but I will never stop dreaming,
that is the only way I will become more"
One of my wishes for the people of India is that their government invests the money they need to make a difference.  My greatest wish is that in the future women are no longer raped because they need to go to the toilet in the fields and land surrounding their homes, that no mother feels the pain the women I met felt through losing their children, that no single person fears for their health because they are thirsty and the water that quenches their thirst may be poison and that the successes I have seen where WaterAid has intervened continue, with more and more communities receiving the benefits.

India has taken a place in my heart forever, the people that occupy this country are amazing and I am blessed, honoured and thankful to have met so many wonderful souls.

I would like to give thanks to my fellow WaterAid supporters who came on this journey with me, who I have not mentioned greatly throughout my blog, but would like to make clear that at times I would have found it very difficult to get through if it wasn't for their support, encouragement and understanding.

I encourage you as the reader of this blog to help make a difference in anyway you can; by supporting WaterAid, donating, sharing my blog or spreading my messages by word of mouth, whatever you do is a great deal better than doing nothing.

I am not writing this blog because I believe I can change the entire world, but at the time if writing this update my blog has received nearly 2,800 hits, for me that's making a difference, one reader at a time.

To donate to WaterAid or find out how you can support in other ways please click on the link below:


I struggle with my emotions in the slums
meeting with people that have lost children
suffer regular illness and are forced to use
the streets as sewers.
Whilst I have now completed my blog regarding my time in India, I have decided to carry on for a short while longer, I would like to share what I am doing now and how my trip to India has a legacy of its own, so check back soon to hear about radio interviews, press releases, presentations and whatever else comes my way... You never know their may just be someone reading this that can help me get what I believe is an important message out there and if they do you can be sure I'll write about it.

Take care all and remember to appreciate all you have...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Day 8 - Bhopal, Delhi & UK

Wow, has it really been 8 days since I started this amazing journey of self discovery and learning about the beautiful people of India!

5am, my day begins, I am now very used to having minimal sleep and starting very early, I am feeling a little extra tired as there was a massive storm in the middle of the night, I heard a lot of it but due to my viewless room I was unable to see a thing. So a quick check around the room, make sure everything is packed and then it's down to the lobby to drop off the bag and grab a bite of food for breakfast, inside I am feeling a sense of loss, I know that I am leaving today and whilst my time here was short the experience was mammoth.
The empty streets of Bhopal early in the morning

It's just a quick breakfast before we head to the coach for our transfer to Bhopal airport, we have a 9:30am flight to Delhi.  As we made our way through the relatively quiet streets of the city we passed lots of modern buildings with the odd slum tucked in gaps here and there, it was such a contrast, the conversation was minimal on my part with others, I was absorbing the city for the last time, I was gathering my thoughts, I was trying to come to terms with the extremes I had seen over the last few days, I was also trying to prepare myself for the UK...  How would it feel to go from the slums of India to the crisp clean city that is London?  I would find out in about 29 hours time (with the time difference).

JetAir Flight Bhopal > Delhi
The flight to Delhi was a pleasant 2.5hours covering 550 miles, time I used to catch up on writing my blog, whilst I had managed to post something everyday I had fallen 2 days behind chronologically.  Our arrival in Delhi was amongst stepped up security, there had been a bomb blast in Hyderabad, killing 15 people just a few days before, whilst it was several hundred miles away from us the capital was understandably on high alert.  With this in mind it was not the best time to test the security....  Something I did!  One of the group mistakenly picked up a bag off the baggage collection belt that did not belong to anyone in our group, this was not discovered until we were loading the bus, therefore I volunteered to walk the bag back to the airport and hand it over to the airline desk...  Simple, WRONG, I got back to the airport, where I was stopped at the entrance by the armed police, I explained what had happened and asked if I could take the bag in, "NO" was the sharp response, "wait there" was the instruction, so I did, who was I to argue this guy was holding a gun...  Time went by so I said can I leave the bad here for someone to collect, "No" was the response again.  An airline representative arrives and I explained again what had happened, his response was "wait here, I'll get someone" I asked if I could leave, the policeman looked at me and said "you stay with the bag".  So I waited and another representative arrived, the same thing happened again so I waited some more, I was very concious that a group of people were waiting for my return to the bus so I said "can I leave and just take the bag with me, I'll leave it in the car part so someone can collect it, I really must get going".  Now looking back that was a bit of a stupid thing to say as the policeman was very clear, "do that and I'll arrest you", so I waited some more...  Finally the third airline rep arrived and I explained again what had happened but this time quickly adding "so here is the bag I must go, okay and thanks" he looked at me and said okay, I quickly walked off, I didn't look back in case the policeman was following, he didn't and I got on to the bus.
Alex (Scottish Water), hanging about
at the WaterAid office in Delhi

Now in Delhi we headed to the WaterAid offices that we had visited the week before, we had dorms available here to take a quick rest if needed, I had decided to stay awake as I wanted to sleep on the flight back to the UK, I figured this would assist me in converting back to UK time.  We had a fair amount of waiting around here as we arrived around 11:30 and we had plans to head out to see the Red Fort around 5pm.  I must confess I was in need of a bit of alone time, I therefore found a secluded area in the sun and just sat for a while, I did a bit more blog writing but mostly I spent time settling with my thoughts.

Around mid afternoon I recorded a brief interview with the WaterAid media crew ready to send out to UK regional news when we returned, the questions I answered stirred up a lot of emotion and I felt my throat tightening, I had seen so much happiness in this country but the one image of the two women telling me that they felt so much pain losing their children haunted me, as soon as the interview was over I went back to my quiet spot and sobbed uncontrollably for 10-15 minutes, after this time Izzy, the WaterAid group leader walked around the corner and asked if I was okay, I said I was just having a moment and that I was glad she arrived, time to kick myself forward and shake it off, Izzy was great throughout the entire trip and I felt a connection there from day one.  Eventually around 3:30pm I rejoined the group, I felt I had the alone time I needed and I wanted to spend a bit more time with this great group of people, people that understood the feelings that I was feeling because they had also see what I had seen.
Red Fort - Delhi

5pm arrived and we were heading on a bus towards Old Delhi and the Red Fort, an historical building built between 1648 and 1658, a structure of true magnificence.  We enjoyed a short time here, an opportunity to switch to sight seeing mode, no more interviews, no stories to hear, no more lessons to be learnt, just time to stand, wander and watch...  After the week we had, this was most welcome.

Well if you can, why not?
See you can do anything you want
even when you're close to 38!
There was a short moment of embarrassment for me, my gorgeous mum had created a photo album for me to take to India, it contained some great family shots and one particular picture of me doing the splits in the air...  Now as soon as this was seen several people asked for me to do it, I held back but on the last day, outside of one India's famous landmarks and after the week we had experienced, it just seemed right to do it, so I did.  Not sure who was most shocked, the onlookers wondering what the hell I was doing or me by the fact I could still do it.

After the short sightseeing visit and tour of the city it was back the office for a light bite for dinner and then to Delhi airport.  Our flight back to the UK was due to leave at 3:30am however we eventually left around 4:30am, I must admint being awake for almost 24hours got the better of me and an hour in to the flight I was fast asleep...  This was great, I woke an hour away from London, the quickest long-haul flight I'd ever done!
Traffic Outside The Red Fort - Delhi

We landed at Heathrow around 7:30am, collected our bags and said a tearful goodbye to one another.  I had made some real friends, people I know I will always stay in touch with, they know who they are so I need not mention all by name.  Following the airport I made my way through the tube system and then on to trains and buses to get back home, I was in a bit of daze, I felt out of place, so much was familiar however everything felt disconnected.  I eventually arrived home around 3pm and enjoyed the comforts that had seemed so far away just 24 hours before.

My trip was over, my brain was full but my body just wanted to sleep... So I respected my body and drifted off with the trip very much in the forefront of my mind.
Enjoying the bus sightseeing in Delhi

My next blog will be an overall reflection of my trip, my highs, my lows and how I now view the one of the biggest journeys of my life.

Street Traders - Dehli

Temple Near The Red Fort - Delhi