KOLKATA: The Covid-19 pandemic has subsided and now, it’s time for foreigners working for NGOs to be in Kolkata for some field work.
Representatives from Denver-based Water for People have returned to the city after nearly three years to see how their organization is making a difference to the lives of the people here.
Their focus is on working mainly in Kolkata and the suburbs of South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and even the more remote Birbhum, for improving access to water and sanitation and providing access to clean drinking water, personal hygiene stations and toilets in what they call, ‘Water for People India is working with rural communities, local governments, and entrepreneurs to ensure universal and sustainable access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services.’
Among the team of eight Americans visiting the city is Kristine Mazzullo, director of Donor Engagement, Water for People. “Our time visiting the communities where we work in both the rural districts in South 24-Parganas and the more urban areas in Kolkata truly showed us how resilient the people in India are. There is so much compassion and dedication by colleagues and community members alike in making clean water and safe sanitation a reality,” said Mazzullo.
In West Bengal, more than 1200 water points, 680 schools, 13 health centres, 84 community sanitation and eight model piped water schemes with household connections were intervened besides capacity building, behaviour change and monitoring support. In South 24-Parganas, more than 1,200 water points have been installed, servicing more than eight seven lakh people across three blocks, Mazzullo added.
“We are working collaboratively with policy makers and district administrations to strengthen local institutions, build capacities and strengthen systems to make sure that these basic services are accessible to everyone, forever,” said Bishwadeep Ghose, country director, Water for People India.
One of the biggest issues is the continued presence of arsenic and fluoride in water. Fluoride content in water is much higher than the safety limit in some places of West Bengal. Both arsenic and fluoride in water are silent killers (skeletal fluorosis is debilitating) , since they are colourless, odourless and tasteless. They’re affecting lives and livelihoods of people on a daily basis. This is one challenge that’s entirely preventable if detected early. What we need is effective surveillance, detection, prevention and treatment.
Bhumika Piya, regional program officer, India, Water for People said: “Our time here has been an amazing experience and we are so grateful to the wonderful people we met throughout our trip in West Bengal. This country is so vibrant and our trip was marked by meeting incredibly resilient individuals – from students to community leaders to government officials. We are touched by everyone’s generosity and true belief in Water For People’s work.”
Coordinating the field visits is Niloy Nag of Flying Squirrel Holidays. “Having organizations such as Water For People visit Bengal creates an opportunity for stories of the state to cross borders. It has been a great pleasure for us to take the team around, to connect them with their stakeholders who have in turn showcased the beauty of our state – water bodies, handicraft, food, homes etc. This has great potential for natural, ecological, historical, cultural and other form of tourism to develop,” said Nag.
He added, “Social tourism is an emerging area of travel. People across the world are now looking for reasons beyond leisure and business to travel. They are looking at more meaningful ways of connecting with local communities, contributing to the development of societies, and making a true impact in areas such as education, drinking water, housing and sanitation. Social Tourism opens up avenues for volunteerism where more people can be involved in strengthening the social fabric that will further boost the economy, and inspire innovative ideas for capacity building and opportunities to attract tourists to the country. We at Flying Squirrel Holidays are willing to go that extra mile in the development of our state through social tourism.”