Jan 19, 2010

Day 2 (Saturday, January 9th) - Sadie

Today was the first Saturday of my college career that I was so excited to get up in the morning, I woke up a full hour before my alarm. I had butterflies in my stomach during the entire bus ride to the village. We convened in the morning, discussed the plan for the day and broke up into three groups. One group went to examine the soak pit that the professional team installed in October, one group went to map out all of the existing wells in the village and one group went to interview villagers about the effects of EWB's work so far. In the morning, I joined the group of interviewers; Marcia Hughes, an associate director of the Center for Social Research; Parminder Parmar, a native of India and an associate professor of human development at Penn State University; Daniel Luedke, a philosophy major and Ellen Skoczenski, a sociology and environmental studies major. (photo, left to right: Parminder, Marcia, Ellen, Dan). I actually didn’t join their interviews again until the last morning in Abheypur because the only thing I was able to do when I was with them was take pictures of people standing around talking. However, looking back, I wish I had followed them more often. Watching Marcia and Parminder work was fascinating. That morning they were trying to do a quick assessment of the reaction they got to certain questions. They used this information to shape their interviews for the rest of the trip. Marcia said that before EWB’s work, the women, who's role it is to fetch water, were usually unsure where they would be getting their water from. The government well only turned on when, “the light came on” as they said, or when the electricity was on in their grid. Some went to a house with a private well and paid a small price for the water or got it for free from a friend’s pump, but those sources were not always reliable. Some of the basic questions they asked were, “where do you get your water now? How is getting the water different? What else has getting water from the girl’s school changed about your daily routine? And how do you spend your new free time?” I just enjoyed how well Marcia and Parminder got a conversation started. Imagine if a random Indian person who had to speak through a translator walked up to your door and started asking you questions about where you get your water. Would you talk to them? Marcia always seemed to ask the right questions to get the most information out of people and keep the conversation interesting. By the end of the trip, Marcia and Parminder were like celebrities in Abheypur. No, they didn't go crazy and shave their heads . . . everyone loved them. Villagers would come up to me asking to speak with them. They were always the first to leave the girl's school in the morning and the last ones to get on the bus in the evening.

After lunch we all went to visit the Surpanch in his home. The Surpanch is the village’s governmental leader and his support is critical to the success of all of our projects. Educating him so that he truly understood how important and helpful our projects would be to Abheypur was critical for the sustainability of all of EWB’s work. After that, I walked over to the soak pit to see the progress that was made in the morning by the team of Engineers: Dr. Pines, an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Clay Pipkin, a mechanical engineering and acoustics major; Sarah Shahin, a civil engineering and architecture major; Jessica Barringer, a civil engineering major and Amy Waraksa, a mechanical engineering major. Since the soak pit was full of water and greywater was still flowing down the middle of the road, it appeared that the soak pit was clogged which significantly reduced the rate at which greywater was able to infiltrate back into the ground.
(photo, L to R: Sarah (standing), Amy, Clay, Jessica, Dr. Pines, and of course our audience, the children of Abheypur)

They tested the peculation rate of the existing soak pit and determined it to be one inch per forty minutes. This slow rate was probably caused by the lack of a forebay, a wide part of the gutter that has a dam separating it from the soak pit, allowing sediment to settle. They designed a brick gutter system with the help of one of the villagers, Jardesh, for the road around the corner where a lot of greywater was collecting . Ultimately, they determined that the soak pit had to be much larger, it needed a forebay and there needed to be a more extensive gutter system leading into it.

We ended the day in the village on kind of an awkward note. We left the girls school and went to a birthday party for the nephew of the Surpanch. We sang him “Happy Birthday,” and then we stood around admiring how cute and shy the little boy was. I started to talk to Chris about how odd it would be if fifteen Indian people just showed up at your house and sang "Happy Birthday" to you in Hindi. A recurring theme of this trip was the constant cultural barrier in everything we did. After five years, most of the villagers have a sense of who we are and what we do, but they still don’t understand the most important element, why we are doing this. They don’t understand why someone would travel half-way around the world just to help out someone they can’t even have a conversation with. I think this is because in Indian culture, they have a very strong sense of family, but typically, very little sense of community. As Copil, one of our translators, said, “an Indian keeps his own house very clean, but he has no problem throwing his trash into his neighbor's yard.” One of the main challenges of this trip was convincing the villagers that we were only in Abheypur for their benefit and therefore, they should try to help us and maintain the work that we do after we leave. This is not to say that the people I met in Abheypur were not warm, welcoming and friendly. The villagers have a tremendous tradition of hospitality. I was offered more cups of steaming hot tea then I can remember and everyone was more than happy to talk, laugh and play with us. However, in terms of making a lasting difference in this community, educating them on the importance of our work and why they should want to sustain it was probably the most important aspect of our trip.

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