March 20, 2012 |

A reason to celebrate safe water

In the village of Vavilala in Andhra Pradesh, India, one little girl embodies why we’re celebrating World Water Day on March 22. PATH’s Lesley Reed met her last fall.

Mani holds the stainless steel cup firmly in two hands, gives us a big grin, and downs the clean water, every gulp loud enough to make us laugh. Then the four-year-old runs to the sari that is tied to the rafter of her new house, sits inside, and swings.

Mother stands with two young daughters next to household water filter.

Click the photo above to view our slideshow about a microfinance program that helped villagers like Madhavi and her daughters Mani and Anjana purchase home water filters. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Mani was not in such impish form when she was two. “She was so sick, I was scared,” her mother, Madhavi, tells us. The toddler was struck with diarrhea, vomiting, and a high fever, a combination that can kill small children. The likely cause: the family’s drinking water, which comes from a shallow well and contains bacteria, viruses, and fecal matter.

A doctor advised Madhavi to boil her children’s drinking water to keep them safe—and Madhavi did for over a year, but it was challenging. She couldn’t afford the extra cooking fuel, so she boiled the water over a wood fire behind the house. It was time consuming and her kids didn’t like the smoky taste.

Clean water and sturdy walls

Then one day, an object unlike anything she’d ever seen before was brought to her microfinance group. It was a household water filter. Madhavi knew immediately she had to have it. Under normal circumstances, the family could not have spared the 1,350 rupees (US$27), but Madhavi was part of a PATH pilot project to get water filters into rural homes through microfinance groups. She was the first of the ten women in her group to take out a microloan to buy a filter, and she paid it back in six months.

Madhavi was clearly an ideal first buyer. Just look next door. What appears to be a barn—the crumbling building has cows in it—is the family’s old house. With microfinance loans and a lot of labor, Madhavi was able to dramatically improve the production of the family’s fields of cotton, rice, and lentils. With the extra income, they were able to build the new house with its stone floor, tile roof, and sturdy walls.

Spreading the laughter

Madhavi is a microfinance success story, and her success has radiated, just like we hoped. When other women in her group saw how much Madhavi liked her filter—and how healthy her children were—they were inspired to make the investment, too. The microfinance model has clicked, and more families in this Indian village far from any city have clean drinking water.

I confess, when Mani grins at me, she is, for the moment, the most important clean water drinker in the world. She owes a lot to her hard-working mother, but right now she just wants a push on her swing and to make us laugh again.

Learn more about PATH’s work to expand access to safe water.

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