In 2020 when the nation was under lockdown, Welthungerhilfe’s nutrition partner PRAVAH came across a serious issue which was being faced by the locals of Sonaraithari block in Deoghar district, Jharkhand. Lack of clean drinking water due to many dysfunctional handpumps and being unable to get possible mechanics for repair and maintenance was a serious cause of concern. To help the locals find a more local and sustainable solution, PRAVAH coined the concept of ‘Jal Dada’ – a cadre of locally trained youth to repair handpumps and ability to test water quality, if needed. Most of these identified group of young men are the ones who lost their source of income during the pandemic and eventual lockdown.
The Jal Dada initiative not only solved the water crisis but also ensured the livelihood of these individuals.
In July 2020, the village volunteers of Welthungerhilfe supported POSHANN programme initiated a discussion in the project villages to find solutions for individuals who were facing income shortage due to unavailability of work during the lockdown. Also, considering the water problems that were being faced by the community at large, the idea of finding local solutions to both the problems emerged. Youth who lost their livelihoods and showed eagerness to learn the mechanism of handpumps, its repair and maintenance, and the parameters to determine the quality of drinking water were identified.
In early August, PRAVAH’s team met this group of select individuals and finalized three trainees from each of the eight Gram Panchayats under the project. The concept was then shared with the district Water Resources Department but due to the lockdown not much direct support could be garnered from the department for executing the trainings. Nonetheless, the department directed the team towards Suman Kumar Das, an experienced mechanic in the area.
Thereafter, PRAVAH’s team counselled Mr Das on useful tips to facilitate a training process for the selected village youths. Following detailed discussions with Suman, two sets of essential toolkits were procured for the work post training. With all the prerequisites being fulfilled, a 3-day training was conducted on Water Quality Testing and Hand pump repairing from 25th to 27th August 2020. All necessary COVID-19 safety protocols were followed during the training.
The training module was kept participatory rather than being theoretical, to ensure that the learnings sustain within trainees. Mr Das himself being an efficient mechanic, was able to deliver a quality training under the constant guidance of PRAVAH’s team members. During the training on ‘Water Quality Testing and Hand-pump repairing’, 28 youth from 12 Panchayats were trained on water testing by using Jal Tara water testing kit on 14 parameters.
Although the 3-day training was useful, initially a few trainees were unable to take up the role of Jal Dada as a livelihood option. PRAVAH then designed a survey for them under which they visited all the villages in their Gram Panchayat with their new identity and spread the information through word-of-mouth. As part of the survey, they also listed out all the public and private hand pumps in the panchayat.
Jal Dadas finding solutions
Following the training and survey, Jal Dada initiative started giving results. The surveys proved to be very helpful and soon they received call for repair work. In just a period of two months, each Jal dada started to earn approx. INR 3000 per month. They started getting calls even from other panchayats because their rates were lower than the regular mechanics and their quality of work was better. Seeing the results, they even printed their visiting cards and pamphlets for advertisements to further cover a larger area and some even used social media sites like Facebook for their advertisement. A few of them have even started to repair and install electric pumps.
To ensure transparency and accountability, they were supported with invoices which serves as a bill of the repair work and helps them to keep record of their incomes. The two kits which were procured at the beginning were used. However, with increased demand and to ensure on time execution of work without any delay, PRAVAH in consultation with Welthungerhilfe decided to support each of the Gram Panchayat under the project. These dedicated toolkit aims to help the handpump repairs in that panchayat to be completed without delays. On 21st December 2020, a block level event was held which was attended by Panchayat leaders, PRI members and all Jal Dadas. They were made aware of this initiative and a collective decision was taken and contact details of every Jal Dad was shared with all.
The Jal Dada are now being called for the repairs by panchayats. All eight Gram Panchayats have been supported with a dedicated toolkit which is under the monitoring of the Panchayat Secretary and is being used by the Jal dada for repair works. Currently, there are 12 active Jal Dadas who have cumulatively repaired more than 110 Handpumps including both public and private ones, ensuring water to more than 400 households. On an average, they are also earning a monthly income of approx. INR 5000.