With 250 Check Dams This Woman Rescued 2 Lakh Villagers From Poverty And Tripled Their Revenue In 10 Years

Image Credits: Amla Ruia

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“The Future Of India Lies In Its Villages.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The economy in Indian villages is agro-based. However, the situation in villages has been deteriorating day by day due to bad governance, illiteracy, bad market and water scarcity. Four years ago, Devkaran migrated from Rajasthan to work as a labourer in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to feed his family as he was not able to do farming in his village due to the acute shortage of water. Now he is back in the village, thanks to check dams built by Amla Ruia. He is now reaping three crops a year and he bought ten buffaloes, two motorcycles and a tractor.

Bhuda-Budhi check dam during construction and during monsoon

During summer, many villages in Rajasthan, a state known for its scorching heat and parched soil, struggle to get drinking water, let alone water for agricultural purposes. There are many villages that are not able to get water even for a single crop a year due to which many farmers are facing poverty.

In 1999-2000, Rajasthan had been reeling under severe drought. Amla Ruia couldn’t ignore the situation of villages in Rajasthan when she read about the poor conditions of the farmers there. She immediately started for Rajasthan from Mumbai. She visited many villages affected by acute water shortage and tried to understand the situation and ways to solve the problem.

While on tour in the villages, she saw many hills surrounding the villages. During the rainy season, farmers used the water drifting from the hills to cultivate their lands. There were no arrangements or any structure in place to hold the excess water from going waste. Amla Ruia wanted to root out the water crisis from the village. The only way this could be done was by adopting sustainable water harvesting procedures.

Amla decided to construct check dams to stop the wastage and flow of excess water. These check dams stored the water which flowed from the higher grounds from hills to lower ground during the rainy season.  Amla started “Aakar Charitable Trust” and began working on her plan.

“Rajasthan was reeling under severe drought. I saw the pictures of famine-stricken villages on the TV screen and I felt that I should do something for them. My father-in-law used to send water tankers and food to the villages. I thought that was not a permanent solution to the problem. I visited those Rajasthan villages and started working to solve the water scarcity.” said Amla Ruia

How do check dams work?

Check dams involve small masonry works and extensive earthen bunds. They are most effective in hilly areas where the whole hilly terrain will act as the catchment area for the reservoir. The rainwater coming from the hills are stopped and stored by the check dam. They are cost-effective and bestow tremendous bounty on the land and the people.

Gunda-bera check dam during construction and during monsoon

Rs 500 crore in revenue

Aakar Charitable Trust visited all the villages in the vicinity and explained to the villagers that the only viable solution to water shortage is building check dams. Seeing the enthusiasm of the trust to help them villagers came forward and extended their support for the cause. In the first phase, the villagers built two check dams in Mandawara village in Dausa district. The result: up-to-the-brim reservoirs filled with water. The farmers near the reservoirs were able to reap revenue of Rs 12 crore that year.

The word spread like wildfire in the surrounding villages which helped the cause. The trust and villagers started building more check dams in different districts like Dausa, Alwar, Sikar etc. In total, the trust built 250 check dams in 156 villages impacting over 2 lakh people every year. The farmers who were once not able to grow one crop a year are now able to grow three crops a year. The revenue in total from 156 villages is about Rs 500 crore.

Involving villagers in building check dams

“The people were not willing to believe that somebody had a clear agenda of helping the villagers. They thought that we have an ulterior motive behind the idea. It took some time to convince the villagers. Few of them believed in us. We do not want any work where villagers themselves do not contribute. Because, if they contribute, that means they really need the work to be done,” said Amla

Amla Ruia talking to villagers.

Villagers are involved in every decision from site selection to supervising the check dam construction. Amla made sure that the villagers are also involved in the construction of the check dams which ensured and increased the sense of ownership in the villagers. The farmers bear 40% of the cost in the form of labour, stone, gravel and water required for the masonry work and rest 60% is borne by the donors. Farmers take care of the maintenance of the check dam.

Impact of check dams on villages

“There are massive changes in the villages. All villages are earning a total sum of Rs 500 crores The incomes in the villages had tripled. The villages along had started animal husbandry along with farming, growing three crops a year; few of villagers had begun small-scale industries too. All the children are going to school, all the able-bodied people who migrated are back in the village. It is only the water that has done all these transformations in these villages,” said Amla Ruia

Calculation of revenue generation

The local supervisors visit each and every farmer in the villages and ask them how much land they have cultivated and how much profit they have earned after deleting their expenses. Now, Aakar Trust also started working in Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhatisgarh. The villagers call Amla “Water Mother” for turning their barren land into lush green fields. For more details visit: Aakar Charitable Trust 

Also Read: Andhra Pradesh: This Man Is Building A Self Sustainable Village In India’s Second Driest District

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

Image Credits: Amla Ruia

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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