PRAYAS KENDRA SANSTHA HARSOLI (PKS)
The Sambhar (meaning salt) Lake in Rajasthan is India’s largest saline lake. It produces 196,000 tonnes of salt every year, and is surrounded on all sides by the Aravalli Range of mountains.
This region is home to some of the most deprived castes in society where stigmatisation exacerbates the struggle to earn a living. Salt, the main industry, harms as much as it sustains, offering employment alongside disease and death. Wages fluctuate seasonally, with scant irregular rainfall and frequent droughts.
Charasada village in the Dudu Block was a typical fragile village in the region with no water security. The main water sources had dried up. Families were living a desperate life of subsistence farming with parents forced into ‘distress migration’ for labouring, leaving young people with no leadership or education.
In 1991, local villager, Banshi Bairwa, decided to take action. A brave step for a man from a Dalit caste, who historically were considered beneath other people, and not allowed to assert themselves. Despite opposition, he founded the charity, Prayas Kendra Sanstha Harsoli (PKS), and set about teaching young people how to be productive members of the community while also keeping them out of trouble! They learnt about animal husbandry, agriculture, nature conservation and most importantly, the values of respect, justice and equal rights for all people, no matter their caste, language or religion.
But Banshi Bairwa realised that the most significant issue threatening his community was the lack of water security for drinking, cattle and agriculture.
So in 2010, PKS partnered with WaterHarvest who realised what significant impact could be achieved because of the acute need (all water sources contaminated by saline and fluoride), supporting the most
marginalised people (from Dalit castes), and working from within, with the village-based PKS. As a Dalit organisation, PKS had limited learning and access to development, so it was an opportunity for WfI to strengthen their leadership too.
Initially focusing on efforts to mitigate the devastating impacts of the annual drought, PKS and WfI constructed 17 roof rainwater harvesting systems (RRWHS) to capture monsoon ‘sweet’ rainwater from rooftops into underground storage ‘taankas’ for year-round drinking water, supporting 102 people. Other water structures built such as farm ponds supported over 26,000 cattle.
The success of this project was such that in 2012, a much larger project was embarked upon by the PKS/WfI partnership lasting until March this year. Villagers saw how dramatically the lives had changed for those who now had water security, and so a further 120 RRWHS were built, benefitting 700 more people. Girls no longer needed to fetch water from far distances, and instead could go to school.
The benefitting family must always contribute (whether by funds or in kind eg labour) alongside the project partner and WaterHarvest. This is to ensure that they take personal ownership for up-keep and repair.
As the village settled into its new prosperity, WaterHarvest formed decision-making groups so villagers could democratically take action on issues arising. Women, not usually allowed to participate, formed their own rotational saving and credit self-help groups. They could save collectively and then loan money out to those women in need.
Such is the success of the work in Charasada that there are plans for it to become a ‘model village’, showcasing to neighbouring villages what can be achieved no matter what caste, religion or race.
Since 1991, PKS has assisted 42,400 families in 106 Villages. They have constructed 54 ponds; 153 RRWHS; repaired 86 wells; planted 44,500 trees. 33,238 families have benefited from educational workshops to improve Dalit rights, health & hygiene.