It was a little quiet at the United for Hope blog in the last couple of months. Despite this, or maybe because of this, a great deal has been happening in our young and quickly growing NGO. A year’s ending is always a good time for reflection. A time to go back and ask: what has gone well and what has gone wrong. What did I achieve? What am I striving for in the upcoming year? For United for Hope, the last year has been a very exciting year. It has been a year of challenges and of hard work, with many lessons and valuable insights, both into what it means to build up such an organization but also in terms of what is possible if you really pursue something. As such, 2014 has also been a year of successes and joy and gratitude. I hardly can believe how much we have achieved in such a short period of time.
Together with your help, we have reached major milestones in our projects for the people in Tirmasahun, leading to a healthier, more sustainable life. Fifty families now have a toilet and 400 children have access to a toilet in their school. Thirty families were able to replace their kerosene lamps with solar lamps. The community not only has solar street lighting and a proper drainage system now, but also regular cleaning services. And it’s on its way to receiving a garbage collection system. Our “Cleanliness and Hygiene” week in October – with which we aimed to promote awareness of littering, recycling, environmental protection and hygienic measures such as washing hands with soap – was a great success. Through games, songs and demonstrations, many hundreds of people were educated about WASH (water, sanitation & hygiene) issues.
Furthermore, both schools in the village have expanded. One has doubled its amount of teachers; the second now has rooms that are fit for teaching. We were able to recruit two new teachers, one male teacher and one female teacher – we are especially happy to have the female teacher on board. What for us women in the west is a normal event, leaving the house in the morning to go to work, is not the case for many women in rural villages like Tirmasahun. Here, many women stay at home all the time, taking care of the family and the household, almost never leaving the house. Taking on a job as a teacher is almost a sensation. We are extremely pleased to have her on board.
Last not least, United for Hope is the proud owner of 500 square metres of land and a 120ft deep well with the aim of providing clean water for an entire community and beyond in 2015. Beginning in January we started laying the first bricks for our community centre on the land. We are so excited to see the walls grow every day and how everything is taking shape. The centre will become the heart of our work in the community, offering education for children and adults as well as community support, vocational training and a base for health & hygiene clinics.
Visit to Tirmasahun in August and November
I visited Tirmasahun again in August and November last year to help execute the next stages of our projects. These visits were full of meetings, planning, kick-offs, awareness and negotiation. We visited colleges, government officers, architects, politicians and spent a lot of time with our growing Indian team. We discussed clean water, education, health & hygiene, sanitation, ethical trading and I spent time with my wonderful friends in the village. Again, as during my previous visits, I was overwhelmed by the warmth and openness I encountered there. And by the thankfulness the women in particular show with regards to their new toilets. It shows me that we really can make a change. And what we have done so far is only the start.
Tirmsahun is not far from Kushinagar, a holy Buddhist site where the Buddha died. During my visits in the area we had the chance to meet senior members of the Kushingar community, including the five senior doctors in the region. They answered many of our questions about water-borne diseases and told us that 50% of all illnesses in the region can be traced directly or indirectly to drinking unclean water. Diarrhoea, jaundice, worm infestation, gastro-intestinal diseases and mineral deficiencies, amongst other things, have their origins in dirty water. Furthermore, the lack of proper drainage leads to diseases carried by insects and rodents. They freely discussed the challenges of the region and were very enthusiastic to lend their support and expertise to our work. They will help us in our education work for clean water and act as our senior advisors in all health-related questions and beyond.
The level of support in the Kushinagar region is astounding. So many people have offered to support us, guide us, open doors for us and even feed and house us. Working in Eastern Utter Pradesh has its challenges, the geographical location and resulting logistic challenges being a major one, but I have never regretted starting our work here. From the first day there has been an outpouring of support and cooperation.
We also made great progress in the education project. The teachers from the government schools we met are ready to unite with us and raise their voices for better health, hygiene and dignity for their students. We visited the local government secondary school in nearby Turpatti with the view to ‘adopt a school’. Not only in terms of working with them in the areas of health, hygiene and environment in the school, but also with the aim of creating a program for young adults and to support them in their own social work by guiding, supporting and motivating them within a structured framework. The resonance was good and we are excited to expand into neighbouring towns and volunteers through our school network. Best of all: we also had the chance to visit the District Magistrate’s office and discuss how to best cooperate with government programs.
2015 will be even more exciting with a focus on our community centre and water project
The start of 2015 has proven no less exciting than last year. The construction of our community centre and our water project are progressing rapidly. We are elated that water tests in early January showed that the groundwater is arsenic free – we can now start executing the next phase of building up the technology needed for providing safe drinking water for the villagers. And we have also found another partner for our water project; they will provide us with state-of-the-art technology.
Sandip, Vikas and Faisal are three of our team members who visited the village in December and worked especially hard on the water and the energy projects. In the next couple of weeks they will provide a first-hand report on what they experienced and an update on the projects.
United for Hope, Tara