Thursday, 14 March 2013

Debrief..... water for all!

Off to London right now to plan how to deliver all the experience to public and how to best show how our money goes to this amazing cause. From the Elan Valley to India and back home to the hills in time for lambing.  Thank you for all those who have helped the Rangers raise money for WaterAid. ... Thank you Dwr Cymru Welsh Water customers for raising 4 million over the last 8 years. ..... all this money has made such a difference to peoples lives and built communities. ... you all make me proud.....

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

WaterAid and Wildflower Meadows

Had a brilliant  talk last night on the amazing Wildflower meadows of the Elan Valley. Over 50 attended from the Builth Wells gardening club. A donation was made to WaterAid and it was an exceptionally good night. Thank you!

Welcome home to the Elan Valley

Arrived home - the dogs (all 8 of them) happily ran towards the car as I arrived up the bumpy track to home, their greeting obvious in the wag of their tails. My three important persons were silhouetted in the homely glow at the doorstep. I waded through dogs and rushed up the path and had to halt for a second as the party popper pulling session commenced. Then it was scooping up of delightful children and hugging wonderful husband. Who had looked after farm and family in my absence and therefore in my view adding to his contribution to WaterAid.

The garland over the Rayburn made by the kids!
A banner of paper hearts was strung across the mantle and I was handed cards and pictures plenty. On the table lay a feast of moon cake, Swiss roll, chocolate muffins, ringed biscuits, jelly, ham sandwiches and iced digestive biscuits. With a bunch of daffodils taking center stage on the table.

then I followed a small treasure hunt  of hearts through the house. ...... including a poem from my 8 year old son..........

I followed some clues up the stairs and found my treasure box (ice cream tub). Filled with my bangle, a pill box (found on a rubbish skip), and a white teddy with I love you embroidered across its breast (found in the air ambulance shop). Then there were lots of cuddles before bed, a quick party with musical dancing statues and all rest. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Return to the cold!

Back to the UK after 9 hour flight and small delay. Here I am sitting and waiting for my natioanl Express coach. My pew is an aluminium bench in the 1 degree temperature and my bottom is numb (my nanny would not be happy at this :-D). But i think i shall move in case i do end up with the piles she always predicts about when on cold places to perch. Back here in London Heathrow I have time to watch the world pass by. The bright glistening saris replaced by black jackets, black matching hand luggage and drabness. I miss the flowing silks, sequins , turbans and bustle. stares of curiosity have been replaced by indifference. I was going to mention the wonderful aroma of my josticks emanating from my bag as a comfort, however alas two seats away a gent in blue jeans, brown shoes and holding onto matching black luggage has lit up a cigarette.

Not long onto coach to remember how beautiful and green Wales really is.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Elan Valley Ranger has Tears for the children - in the slums

I went into the slum known as Shiv Nagar.....  I really was well prepared for the shanties and the litter and dirty small children running around. I felt strong that I could cope. A life of farming and surveying wildlife ensures that I am used to mucky situations and studying wildlife droppings is a part of my area in mammal recording. I saw the site a barren flat waste ground strewn with litter with boar and dogs scavenging the grounds. We were taken to the home of  Sakun Soni......... who was in his 60s and his wife ...Ramesh in her 50s their 16 -18 year old daughter Rajani (in some places the ages are not known especially if surviving day by day) ... was there also getting ready for school, once she had collected water from the tap outside.  Which is only on for 2 hours a day so the days water needs to be collected.

Sakun had a bandage tied around his head and seemed a little frail.  I looked into his milky coloured eyes ...... and felt the cost of his suffering.  He had brought up 4 children 3 daughters and a son.  They lost one young daughter to a water borne disease also years before. 2 daughters have been married.  The son works in a flour mill which is contract work unusual in the slum as most employment is usually a daily struggle.

It turned out that three days before our visit the electricity had gone off and Sakun had fallen in the dark and woke in a pool of blood and had managed to get some help from someone nearby who got him to the hospital.

We discussed many more issues and then I was outside and asked what was "I feeling in the slums". I tried to talk but I could feel the emotion rising within me and the tears flowed from my eyes. I couldn't get away the glimpse at a small boy no older than 4 (just a bit younger than my daughter) squatting down in the wasteland of litter and human excrement surrounded by foraging boar and dogs. I knew many children had been bitten by snakes and died and children and women were prayed upon by men. The lack of privacy,  dignity and safety was hitting me hard here.  And after spending the day with the school yesterday I was reminded of the vulnerability of India's children.  I thank God I have seen the good work that WaterAid and partners are doing to make the future safer for them..

The other thing I learned today was just what the partnership organisations do with WaterAid as sitting with the staff in the house it was plane to see how much they were connected with the people and just much work had been done to get to this stage. They help the people to get access to their rights and they move the government to take responsibility. ....

Which reminds me that there were diggers present cleaning out the ditches of waste.  Word had got to the government department we were on site. ...the ditches are not cleaned as regular as should be! So at least in a small way our presence made a difference that day for the slum.

Afternoon at Arjun Nagar Slum

Welcomed by singing and drums x

This slum has 400 houses and has been in existence for 30 years (this morning there were 300 households and the slum was 40 years old), most residents are from scheduled caste and schedule tribes. And it was a relief after this morning to see how a community with the help of WaterAid and Partner Organisations could lift a community and have it motivated and working sustainability together. You will be pleased to hear that every household has a toilet now and there is even a road. Health has greatly improved and the children are safer indoor. It is at the moment the only open defecation free slum! And has been sustaining itself for 3 years. the government are looking now to build houses in place of the dwellings currently there.

Meeting the lovely Asha and her husband Shibai was a real honor and enlightening experience. they have a son and daughter who are both at school and they proudly showed us the trophy `s won by the son Rahul. they are proud of both their children and hope they will continue with their education. Now there is a toilet in the school it is more girl friendly and girls are continuing whereas before they dropped out around puberty.

the community has its own committee to which the householders pay 20 rupees a month for the maintenance and water quality checks of the water points and to improve the community overall such as plans to build a play park  hospital or community hall. People are free to dream and plan now , in fact this slum has a 5 year plan in place and even visits surrounding neighboring slums to share the fact that they too can be the same.
The community corporator was elected in the ward and is responsible for 6 slums (blue Sari), she really understands the issues and it was clearly visible the respect and love the people had for her. If there is a wedding or a birth she is always invited. The corporator we saw this morning in Shiv Nagar on reflection did not have this rapport and this may help to contribute to that feeling of despair.
Children are spending less time collecting money now so there is more time to study - and well just be children :-) Now that Asha has a toilet and it made us chuckle when she told us once she had a toilet she could go out and buy a telly. There was now status to her household.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Wanting change - the children show us how

Padli village school was our Thursday afternoon visit and it was so good to see that small children can really make a big difference to the implementation of change.  The village has 131 houses and the population is 950. Mainly dependent on agriculture.  Before intervention the sanitation situation was not very encouraging.

The school children played an important part in the drive for cleanliness.  They had morning rallies (which is the time most defecation occurs) having outdoor games at morning and even blowing whistles when seeing someone going to the toilet outside. With these children going home and campaigning for toilets in the home this was again raising the awareness. At school they were shown how to wash hands and keep clean.

There is almost 100% sanitation coverage with most houses having a toilet with only a few still being constructed.

Our welcome was lovely as always in India. We all received out mark on the forehead and a rose. A different child delivered to each supporter the rose and they told us about the committee they were on.

A group and the principal escorted us around the classrooms. The principal was so pleased that you can now open the windows as the smell was so bad it put the children off study and lunch. The children were so proud of the work that they had done and happily showed off pictures and posters. We studied the solar system and they told me pluto was no longer classed as a planet.  Studying the same as my little boy last term.

I took a moment to show them photos on my own phone of things they had drawn such as trees, livestock, rainbows and wildlife.  As well as the snow, sunsets and my family. The school has a conservation committee and they told me that they had planted trees around the school to make it nicer now the grounds were free from human waste we wouldn't be able to sit on the rugs we were welcomed onto the mess was that bad.
The kids played games after and there was much shaking hands thumbs up and photos on way back to minibus.  

A coconut,  a rose but my most memorable gift was when 13 year old Priyanka ( one of the girls who spent the afternoon with us)  asked if she could give just one kiss. I nodded  wide eyed and she planted a sweet kiss on my cheek on that bonds a memory for life. I held her little hand and muttered words of all sorts of thanks and well wishes. In my heart i was pushing a 1000 prayers that she would grow up happy and safe. One that the Samaratans, WaterAid and the community have already proceeded to create. Work to ensure this little girl and her friends have the simple possibility to study safely and healthy.  I think I may plant a tree at home to watch grow and flourish just like this community. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Building futures - the handprints to come.

Amrod Village - Madhya pradesh
A wonderful welcome in the lovely tranquil farming village of Amrod. We had a coconut presented to each WaterAid supporter which was a symbol of "warmth and love to you". There is a total of 84 families (570 people) in its village and water is seasonal and scarce. Open defecation was practiced by its villagers.
Villagers were met in the outset in evenings away from the main time villagers were out on farm work. In Sept 2012 a plan was put together with input from whole community. ...children, women, minority groups etc. Because the fields are full of crops the space was limited and people were using roadsides to go to the loo. Womens safety was an issue after an incident occurred to a young girl.  The community decided it would be 100% open defecation free. And it looks like by the end of next month that will be done. It has only 9 loos to go! And the community are so enthused they are taking their message out to surrounding villages.
Amar singh decided was the first not to wait for the government but to build his own latrine as he was in fear of his wife's safety when going out. The others have followed on inspired by his initiative and example. Amar told me there was probably 4 or 5 children under  the age of 5 that died each year and that was due to the sanitation issues mostly. The government and the villagers are now working towards a piped water supply. The village now has a 5 year plan..... it dreams and works towards a safe future.
This child is the same age as my daughter. She watches her father as he builds her a safer cleaner future. - The New Toilet

I watched a good man today move bricks and build up the layers into the wall of his new latrine.  The pits had already been dug and this was the next stage.  It takes about 8 days to dig the whole latrine and construct the brickwork. He worked hard as his two beautiful daughter's watched on, the eldest sometimes passing him a brick. He is doing this for them to ensure his family can go to the toilet in safety and it is much more hygienic.

We were I invited into their house and given a bed to sit on whilst we asked a few questions more. His wife was so elegant, loving and kind. In her home surrounded by her warmth and kindly manner it struck me with a defensive slap to the face how I didn't want this lovely sweet natured lady with her daughters to be on a roadside for life's necessities. So you can imagine how reassured I felt to see her dignity and security being restored through simple bricks and mortar. Having myself the opportunity to dig some of the pits and add in some bricks of my own and thus have some small part in rebuilding their "future" was most gratifying. I can leave in the knowledge that many more hand prints can be added by future generations on the wall - That all the children will grow up to see their own children's hand prints adorn the wall of this house.

This little girl sits on the family bed also called a cot

Now the people of this Village spread the word to other communities "You can have this".

 Futures changed for the better.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

It's more than just water - it is creating destiny!

Wow what a road we travelled both senses. The physical road we travelled was bumpy and the traffic rules in India well I haven't quite worked that one out.  The people I am visiting have a road to travel or have travelled along so far and the foundations need to be strong to build upon. The foundation I speak of is that of "community engagement" because projects can only succeed when the community are involved and there is a long term sustainable plan created on the outset of projects to ensure they continue with the good work initially done. What I mean by this Is what I have seen by the formation of community groups taking responsibility in their own water supply issues, sanitation issues, health issues and by training up villagers to educate and maintain the pumps/latrines etc.I got out of the mini bus in the village of Jonhar. With my feet placed gently onto the solid earth and once my bones stopped jiggling on their tendons on the post bumpy journey I was able to follow my other WaterAid supporters into the village meeting place...... under a tree (a familiar place for a Countryside Ranger from the Elan Valley to be) with large rocks in the landscape and some rather interesting historical features ( forts and palaces rather than Dams siloheted on the horizon). I will stop waffling now :-).Of course we received a lavish welcome. We took up our places under the tree with the beat of the drums to see us to our places. 

We met with the womens group and heard from them the issues around water and sanitation from their point of view. Some factors they felt were some whrre old and had sore joints to walk the Kilometre and back 5 times a day (rhambiti). Young girls carry water (Indra -mother). Krishna is 12 and has to get up before school to collect water. Watering livestock is done....the day is spent in water collection. Water is not covered and there is rubbish families get very sick. 100% of community defecate in the open. Young girls are afraid at night to go out into areas to toilet. Mum usally accompanies them. This is a farming community with 1157 people. Sanitation issues need to be implemented. There is very little hygiene awareness and the community is considered vulnerable. I had an opportunity to draw water from the open well. I felt for the young girls who carried these heavy urns on their heads to and from their homes. I enjoyed showing the children pictures of our livestock, snow and scenery. I think they enjoyed it as it gathered into quite a crowd!

Our second visit was to Kamhar - a success post WaterAid community and an inspiration to how a little help can start many balls rolling. This village has 624 people and again agriculture and livestick farming is the main employment. They welcomed us with a lush feast of peanuts, freshly harvested peas, sweet biscuits and fruit. Two young girls floated past in their saris bestowing the red paint between our brows and placing a garland of red orange yellow and white flowers around our necks. I was informed this red mark means destiny. This village was once in the same situation as the first village. The community was supported by WaterAid which involved  addressing water and sanitation issues through engaging the community and capacity building. They are now rain water harvesting, have a piped supply of water, latrines in 70% of the houses, there are childrens rallys on hand washing, have trained mechanics to deal with provisions, the community dug drains and even have a check Dam. All open wells have been covered. Money provided by each household pays the salary of the attendants and extra will be invested in setting up buisness' such as basket making and recycling clothes and materials.
So final thought....... we have the red paint for our destiny however these people have created thier own destiny which has then provided them with dreams and hopes. We all have a part to play in making our futures.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Some more India Prep :-)

Well this picture says it all......... Good night , Good company, Good food and Goodbyes (for a while only x)....... 
.....and in just six days (who says I am counting? ;-))  there will be New experiences, New friends to meet and New food to try.....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The layout of the trip now!

Phew.... Last items are about packed.... things have been in and out of my ruck sack........ my mind has been a constant chatter of "Do I need it?- What would I do without this? - Maybe a few less of this - Maybe a few more of those - Wheres that passport gone now? - there it is how did it get there? - How on earth can one small 60Lt ruck sack take about 2 hours of organising?!  But like I said its about ready to go..... Am I? Well the excitement is paramount at this stage............ A feeling of responsibility and nerves has eased into the mix...... But its LETS DO THIS!

I have had my trip layout provided read and re-read the details.

I will be flying from Heathrow on the 16th Feb into New Delhi. Getting on a train to Gwalior, spending a few days there. Back on the train and into Bhopal to spend another few days before flying back to New Delhi. Spending a little time here and then back home to my life in Wales.

I will be expected to meet with communities to find out what life is like without safe water and sanitation and visit the WaterAid projects in both urban slums and rural villages to see how the money raised by Welsh Water employees and customers is making a difference. India has a population of over one billion and diseases are common throughout the country due to contaminated drinking water sources and poor sanitation. WaterAid estimates that only 31% of the population has adequate sanitation and 320,000 children under five die every year as a result of this.
 **Sources: World Bank (2011) World Development Indicators database -, WHO / UNICEF (2010) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report 2010, UNDP (2011), Human Development Report 2011)

As part of the trip, to the Madhya Pradesh region of India, I will have opportunity to spend time with a local family living without clean water and sanitation, learning first-hand about the challenges they face without access to these vital resources. I look forward to  meeting children from local schools, sit in on hygiene education sessions, take part in some construction work and learn how access to clean water and sanitation has helped transform people’s lives.

As a mother myself, I find it very sad and shocking that 2,000 children die every day from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. Clean water is something we take for granted in the UK, but some people have no choice but to drink dirty water that could make them ill, or worse. I feel seeing the impact of  the awful truth in the field will be a hard fact to deal with emotionally!?

A Picture I took just today - under the Bridge - where water is plenty!
Nant Gwyllt Elan Valley

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water is actively involved in a wide range of fundraising activities every year. In the past eight years staff have raised over £840,000. The company has also supported WaterAid through the annual customer appeal. Since it was launched in 1993, customers have given over £3.5 million – enough to help over 450,000 people gain access to safe, clean water and sanitation.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Last on the List

Right that is it... my last item sorted before my departing of this green and pleasant land....with a little bit of rain ;-).... I have been to the nurse today and received my malaria tablets. I was told there where currently issues in Bhopal so I was advised to get a prescription rather than over the counter tablets. I have my anti bug bracelets and net and spray all packed....... mosi avoidance all the way! 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

It`s Getting Really Real Now!

OMG it is 2 weeks yesterday in which I will be flying out to India with the WaterAid team....... by this time now in two weeks I will have stepped off the plane and looked straight into the heart of my first Indian sunrise..... "I will be waking up with India"..... I love the sound of those words.

It seems so much more real this week..... there was an article printed in the local paper about the trip which I discovered when I went down for my lunch at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre - I was told all about my upcoming trip which was transmitted to me by visitors having seen the newspaper. A great part of my dinner was then spent chomping in between the telling of our regular visitors/friends all about what was planned for my upcoming trip to India. Later an errand into the local town of Rhayader for some equipment and tools saw me relaying my impending travels to the friendly faces I met and also receiving many good luck remarks along my way. With each and every well wish granted my tummy increasingly took a  flip of excitement - so you can imagine what state  it must be in now as a write this!

I had an e-mail from a work colleague this week who was fortunate to go on the WaterAid trip a few years back to wish me luck and some wise words of advice which were;- to keep a diary as there is so much going on your brain can become fuddled and to bring some small bottles of hand gel with me..... And I am feeling less guilty about picking up all that Imodium now too :-) I'm not alone with belly ache worries..... and on that matter I have received very much guidance and advice which I won`t offer up right now..... 

I am off to see the nurse this week to sort out the malaria tablets.....

Visitors Centre from above

The Elan Valley Visitor Centre located in front of Caban Coch Dam - with up to 200,000 Visitors a year who come to see the Dams and the scenic area in which they are set. Many stop by to visit the cafe, shop, exhibition and have ample opportunity to learn all about the Elan Valley. for more information -

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Back to school - in Rhayader

Went into the local school today in Rhayader for assembly. I was greeted by wonderfully enthusiastic children who informed me that India was very good for wildlife and to be careful of any Bengal Tigers lurking... and to keep my eyes open for Asian elephants! They reminded me how important the Elan Valley Dams are now, how the water was needed for the City of Birmingham, how clean water is good for us and that God turned water into wine. I did get to talk about WaterAid and explained that not everyone in the world has access to clean safe water like us. It sounds like everyone was educating everyone else. I am looking forward to going back and doing some classroom or eco club sessions. The children seemed keen to hear about my adventures on my return. Thank you Rhayader Primary for being so lovely and sweet. I was nervous but did receive a "your talk was awesome" from a little boy on my way out. Though I think they are awesome kids and teachers too. :-)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A little bit of prepraration done for the trip

Today It still snows and slowly but surely I made it down the Elan Valley into work at the Visitor Centre. I have also been urged by my Dwr Cymru Welsh Water WaterAid team and works comms department to take some pictures even now as I prepare for my trip...........So every effort has been made and I have done my best grimacing at a camera and I have some images to use ?...erk..... 

On the subject of images I had this picture of a mother and her child sent to my work e-mail by our Regional Development Manager at WaterAid - I think its a powerful picture and I thought I would share it with you................ 

Photographer Credit WaterAid Brent Stirton
A slum dwelling mother and child stand amongst the flood affected
housing in which they live, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow surreal!

I was driving back the other evening thinking of my trip and what I still needed to sort or pack busy making a mental list. When I realised I was driving through falling snow, the flakes moving towards the windscreen like I was in a Star Trek movie going through warp speed ( I wasn't going that fast mind - honest!). It made the India experience seem to be another world away.

Since then it has snowed more and now I am house bound busy feeding sheep and building snowmen and sledging. I am adding some pictures from the last couple of days so that when I get to India you may be able to see the contrast on the blog of normal life in Wales to a different life in India?

WaterAid update so far

JANUARY: Briefing Day in London
On 10th January 2013 I got an opportunity to travel to London and meet the other successful candidates and team members as well as the WaterAid Staff. We had a jolly great day where we covered all the issues and requirements for the adventure ahead. Its real! Its happening! Since then I have received the itinerary and examined it in every little detail...... which only heightens the personal excitement for the venture ahead and the experience and education I will gain. Thank you WaterAid for choosing me!

This is the crew off to India for WaterAid!

On the 9th January I traveled to London - a different world to the one I usually inhabit. I left from Port Talbot and had a direct line to London Paddington. Have you realised how heightened your senses become when you travel, especially if you are on your own. I stepped out of the house (after giving each of my little ones a kiss on their sleepy little heads) into the farmyard which was engulfed by a thick mountain mist which cloaked the hills. I felt the cool damp air on my cheeks and i was ready to do this.................................
I opened the gate at the end of our track and on each of the metal bars the dew had frozen and these little beads glistened as I shut the gate. Penygarreg Dam is still overflowing with a wall of white water energetically heading off towards the City of Birmingham.
I stopped in Rhayader at the bank, people were already up and moving in the streets. It is a wonderful town, the faces are always familiar and you always know everyone on the street - "hello, goodbye, how are you?" are the local songs that melodiously dance along the pavements. Leaving that familiarity I got back into my car and started on my journey to South Wales. The drive through the Brecon Beacons was glorious; the mist clung in little pockets beneath the hills and the morning winter sun rose behind the mountains. The voyage on train after my drive was easy and I read up on my WaterAid information mostly. Out of Paddington station I went and I got a taxi to the Victoria Inn which was very a very pleasant place to stay. i thought an inn sounded appropriate for someone travelling! Time was taken in my room for a well deserved cup of coffee. I contemplated on this coffee as I drank - my coffee made from London water. I get my water from a well which collects the water as it runs off the Welsh hills. Granted it may have been through a few ovines first.......... but how many people has this coffee water been through? Then I went and explored a bit of the Thames and stood for a while on the Vauxhall Bridge admiring the sunset.  
NOVEMBER : WaterAid Supporters Trip Confirmation
Jubilation and great excitement as I receive the news I was successful in having a place on the WaterAid supporters trip to India in 2013. I was undergoing my chainsaw training at the time and it was so surreal receiving this news and then going out of the office in a state of euphoria to fell a tree in the middle of the forestry in the lovely Elan Valley. (no employees were harmed due to this state of elation whilst wielding a chainsaw :-))