Thoughts from the field

Om Prakash Sharma, WaterHarvest’s India director, shares his views on the charity’s achievements eighteen years after joining

It was exactly 18 years ago, on 1st April 2001, that I joined WaterHarvest. The journey has been an inspirational and motivating one. When I look back at all these years I always think how lucky I am that I got the job which I love: supporting the poorest of poor with compassion and love, but above all working with an organisation which has a very strong ethos and values. This is a very rare combination.

Listening to the communities

Over these 18 years, as my work responsibilities have changed, my typical day in and out of the office has also changed. One thing that has never changed, and which I still love doing, is visiting the villages with our partner NGOs and working with the communities. Born and brought up in the ‘land of water warriors’, I had personally already learnt a lot whilst working with rural communities. Learning with desert communities that there are so many different ways and means to not only harvest water, but use it efficiently, was never taught in my engineering training, which shows how much we can still learn from ancient wisdom.

Combining modern science with ancient wisdom

Being a trained civil and water resources engineer, I am always keen that our partner NGOs continue innovating and improving their works. In my experience over these years, NGOs are very good at highlighting stories of how water solutions have changed people’s lives for the better. Going forward, these anecdotes can be strengthened with a greater use of proper scientific data in demonstrating the long-term impacts of the programmes. Verifying them in this way can help other agencies – like the government and academic institutions – to scale, learn about and replicate the solutions for greater numbers of people.

Sharing the knowledge

In addition to ensuring the donor’s funds are efficiently used, we assist our partner NGOs in villages to improve the project designs, support their work on ground and enhance their financial control systems, amongst other things. Taanka improvement works in the desert are one of the best examples of our India and UK office / universities collaborative efforts. Our work with the government of Rajasthan – like Swach Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign), where we worked with the partner NGO teams to design innovative, educational material with specific support for disabled people to improve their toilet design – became a model work. Our regular partner meetings not only discuss the issues and challenges of the projects but also act as a platform for partner NGO team members to meet, learn and share knowledge with each other.

Building long term relationships with the communities

In my 28 years of work in the development sector, I have also observed that some organisations can often leave the villages in which they have worked once the project is finished and continue no relationship with the partner NGO or village communities. Our relationship with partner NGOs and with village communities is not just based on the projects. At WaterHarvest, we try to continue relationships with all of our NGO partners and go back to the villages where we have worked before, to see a longer-term change in the communities. Our recent 2018 study on one of the watershed project works (carried out during 2004 to 2009) shows an increase in vegetation cover due to water harvesting works. This is proof of the sustainability of our collaborative solutions and that communities are continuing to benefit from them.

Sitting on one carpet together

With all the great achievements we have made over the last thirty-two years, it is still frustrating to see many remote villages having no, or very intermittent, access to water, and how availability of water can spoil the future of women and girls. I think this can be overcome if we continue our work with some basic values and ethos; like sitting together on one carpet – with no discrimination based on gender, caste or religion – we must value every human being, value the voices of people on ground (i.e. village communities) and value our every team member. Together, we can continue this fantastic work for many more years to come.

This week’s blog was written by Om Prakash Sharma on 5th April 2019.

About Om: Om is WaterHarvest’s India director and a civil engineer. He joined WaterHarvest eighteen years ago and runs a team of four from the WaterHarvest office in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

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