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WOTR-ing young minds

Children's laughter and shouts of excitement ring out as two girls play on a seesaw in the Government Primary School at Bagdunda village in Udaipur district, Rajasthan. There are two boys on a neighbouring seesaw, both pairs competing to see which can jump faster. 

A boy cups his hand to drink water at a tap nearby. Two girls wait for their turn. The water is pumped to the tap from a borewell by the up-and-down movement of the seesaws. A WOTR field worker thought out of the box to make the boring, tiring chore of using a hand-pump. Now, instead of just pumping up enough water to drink immediately, an overhead tank gets filled while the children are having fun. 

"They come even after school hours to play on the seesaws, making sure that the tank stays filled all the time," says Gyanprakash Berwal, who heads WOTR in Rajasthan. "They have also planted saplings. Each child waters and takes care of one. The plant is labelled with her or his name, increasing the sense of ownership and responsibility." 

WOTR, founded more than a quarter century ago in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra by a Swiss Jesuit, Fr. Hermann Bacher, uses various ways, each tailored to the culture of the state where it works. From its small beginnings at Darewadi village, it has grown over the years to cover nine states all over India. And with water getting increasingly scarce, its work keeps becoming more and more valuable.

Fr. Bacher – who, the villagers remember, himself picked up a pickaxe and walked briskly up hills - laid the foundation for the organisation and its activities by starting to dig a trench. A man who was already in his 70s back then, he set an embarrassing example to those who were complaining that the ground too hard to dig. 

He then made some rules: charaibandi (a ban on open grazing), kuradbandi (ban on tree chopping) and shramdaan (contributing physical work). Many of the villagers knew he had done good work. Anyway, they had nothing to lose: there was no vegetation on the hills, and they had no water or work.

WOTR’s shramdaan is different from other models in that the villagers are actually paid for their labour, but 20% is deducted as their contribution towards the expenditure on any project. This enables the organisation to execute twice as much work that is sanctioned by the funding agency.

Across the other states where WOTR works, too, the activity has changed lives. Manikamma, a woman farmer in Mahboobnagar, Telangana, pioneered the adoption of the scientific System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in her village. “I planted rice twice, and got much higher yields: seven bags of 50 kg each against only five using the conventional method. My inputs have also decreased drastically, from four bags of DAP (Diammonium phosphate) fertiliser to just one bag.”

Moving on from watershed development to water management, the trust has also established the WOTR Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS), which uses a ridge-to-valley approach to ensure sustainability. Then came agriculture management, including micro-irrigation. All the work is bottom-up, to support the money and technological know-how that comes from the top.

As Fr Bacher’s said: “Without watershed development, there is no solution to drought” The organisation he built, and the people working in and with it, bring these words to life.(sekharseshan@hotmail.com)