Published on: 11/08/2015
Mr Belwal is a community facilitator with the Himalaya Institute Hospital Trust, an NGO that, amongst others, develops water supply systems in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, through a programme supported by Himmothan Society. His main responsibility is ensuring that villages that have been "phased out", i.e. where the water supply systems have been built, keep on having a well-functioning supply.
One way of doing that is by attending to questions and concerns from these villages. Yesterday he received a phone call from the village of Khureit. Due to the monsoon rains, there has been a landslide that damaged part of the main line. After a one hour drive, he reaches the village, where he meets the Village Empowerment Committee (VEC), the community organization that is responsible for operation and maintenance. During this meeting, he learns that this landslide has not only damaged the main line; it has also meant that three families lost part of their land, and some of their cattle died. With their livelihoods thus affected, these families are no longer able to pay their monthly water tariff. Upon hearing this, he calls in the three families and listens to their story. They decide to go to the Pradhan (the president) of the Gram Panchayat (local government), to request that the Gram Panchayat pays the tariff for these affected families. In that way, the VEC will receive the money for their ongoing maintenance work, and the families are not left without water.
After that, he goes to take pictures of the damage. The photographs are needed to be annexed to an application for contingency funds from the district government. He has been a Pradhan himself and knows about the various provisions for contingency funds in case of these kinds of disasters. After taking the photos, he spends the rest of the afternoon filling out the application forms together with the VEC and the Pradhan. Hopefully, the application will be processed soon, so that the repairs can take place.
Old shoes need regular polishing, and the same goes for water. HIHT provides the polishing to keep water flowing.
Mr Belwal doesn't only respond to requests, he also makes scheduled visits to monitor the performance of the phased out villages. Tomorrow, he will go to the Chamba area. In that area, there are five villages where Himmothan has developed water systems. But these systems have varying levels of performance. He has called members of the VEC together in Kalit, the best performing village in the Chamba area. The proactive VEC has successfully applied to funding from the Gram Panchayat to build protection works around the intake structure, to avoid damages during heavy rains. It will be a two kilometer walk up to the mountain to see these protection works, but it will be worthwhile if it inspires the other villages to do something similar. He is particularly concerned about the village of Chajore, as the VEC struggles with tariff collection and doing good chlorination. The exposure to the other villages, who are doing better in that respect, probably helps them to improve. Because in his experience, VECs learn much more from each other, than from an outsider. But he as an outsider is needed to bring them together.
The position of Mr Belwal is a new one under the Himmothan programme; he has only been there for 10 months. But he is filling a strongly felt need – providing a little support to ensure systems keep working. Most of the VECs that were set up under the Himmothan programme are carrying the operation and maintenance work. But after a time, they need support in these tasks, as they may become slack in their book keeping, or they stop doing chlorination. A regular monitoring visit or a short refresher session helps them to do the work properly again. As Mr Gangu Ram, the secretary of the VEC in the village of Kinsu said "old shoes need regular polishing. We as VEC become lethargic after a time and HIHT then can activate and motivate us again". The work of Mr Belwal is exactly the kind of shoe-polishing the secretary from Kinsu refers to. Responding to a calls from a VECs for assistance, or a scheduled meeting with all villages in a certain area, may just be a day in the life of a community facilitator, but it is what keeps the "old shoes shining", and the water flowing.
At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.