Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A day of water usage

This is a small filler worksheet I made after the first activity.

Aim: An activity to see understand when and how these students interact with water.

Activity: I have given them an activity sheet which has three columns. Every time they come in contact with water, they have to fill this sheet in. One that says ‘Action’- what they are using the water for, the second ‘Source – where they are getting this water from and third ‘Quantity’- approximately how much they use. I told them to take it home with them and fill it across a day, every time they used water and share it with the whole class the next time we meet, to see what the patterns are.

Inference: Through this, I hope to know where the touch points are, where the children come to contact with water and where that water comes from and how much they use. This might just be a revelation for me and them as well- to look at their water usage patterns.

I have given these to them and explained what they have to do. They immediately asked what these three words and translated it for themselves into Kannada. I am waiting to see what they have filled in. I will know soon!

Here are some of the responses!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I visited on the 20th, sadly to find out the next day was a holiday due to a festival that was happening in the village. I had many adventures on the way thought! The list included a bus strike, getting stranded in the Andhra border in a random village without knowing the language and travelling at the back of a shared auto holding on to my dear life, just to get there on time so that I could at least spend an afternoon with them! It was a good experience none the less :)

View from the back of my auto

From the three schools I visited earlier, I decided to work with the private school, as it had students from 7th to 9th grade, older ones who had been introduced to this subject at least a little bit and many girl children as well. Some of these children's homes have had rainwater tanks as part of the government's Sachetana project, yet they don't drink rain water as the tanks are not being maintained properly. A little tour of the school before I begin.

School building with the 3 classrooms

Front yard which is used as their sports field/play area

Toilets- one for the girls and one for the boys with no supply of water

Tank in the school yard where children collect water to drink, wash their plates after their meals and to the toilet as well.

Students running to grab their cycles and go home as it was raining after classes ended

This was the first time I was interacting with them. I had only just spoken to them for a few minutes the previous visit. As an ice-breaker, I told them who I was and what I was doing and started off with a simple mind-mapping/drawing activity for both of us to understand what our associations with water were.

Aim: An activity to see what the students associate with water. Their perceptions of the water they are exposed to and how much they know about it and what they feel their immediate needs are.

Activity: To mind-map, write or draw associations with water that they might have on a big sheet of paper (This could be done in small groups). Stories they might have heard from their family and their current connections with water. Colour, objects they associate with it, anything on one side of the given sheet. Once they are done, they flip to the other side, where they would fill in what they think is an ideal scenario. What the situation would be like if there were no problems and if they had clean water, like they are going to, soon. What does this mean to them? This will give an idea of the future they are envisioning for themselves.

After doing this, the different groups share it with the whole class.

Inference: Through this, I might get to know how much these children know about the water they are exposed to, how much it actually affects their lives and what they are willing to do about it as well as what they feel is ‘ideal’ and how much we can actually cater to actually fulfilling that.


> They will be able to link water directly to their problems

> They will understand what I am trying to say

> They will work together in groups effectively

> They will participate enthusiastically

The above was what I had in mind when I went there. I divided them into 4 groups and they started off. Paying so much attention to being neat, some of them refused to write or draw without using a ruler or drawing lines and writing on that. They would first write in pencil and then go over it with sketch pens and crayons. I sat with them and drew my associations on a sheet, like a mind map, and they looked at me like I was doing something wrong :) Maybe they were wondering why I was being messy and not using a ruler! Then they started getting fascinated and wanted to copy what I did. To stop this, I stopped drawing and sat with each group to help them out individually.

Initially they were really apprehensive about what they wrote. They tried to copy a poem from their text book, one on water. I then took the books from them and told them to write or draw what came to their mind when they thought of water. What they see around them in the village etc. Then slowly they started with the general 'textbook' matter like the properties of water and that it boils at 100 degrees Celsius and that it is used for drinking, bathing, cooking, washing clothes, for plants and trees, birds and cattle, to construct houses for making bricks and farming. With this, they also mentioned that we need it more for plants and trees as they supply us with oxygen which we need for survival.

Just from these few words, there is a sense of being connected to certain daily activities, being sensitive, without being aware of it. I would never have thought of water for cattle, birds and trees and for construction work, even though it seems obvious now.

After the uses and properties, they went on to write songs that they have heard, sources of water in their village (taps, tankers, wells, lake and bore wells)

They also talked about water pollution and how people wash their clothes near the water bodies in the village and how that pollutes it. They also mentioned that waste water from factories is let out into the river and seas in the cities and since the seas are the main source of water, lots of water is contaminated.

They were aware of diseases spreading trough water. How pools of water get collected near the tanks they use and how they get diseases because of this. (Shown in the chart above) So, they say that one should always boil water before they drink it. Now, the real question is, how many of them actually do it? If they know it and yet don't apply their knowledge, how can I facilitate that process?

There was a section on rainwater as well. They said one must harvest rain water and filter and boil it before drinking it and store it in their houses. How the rain water helps the farms as they need lots of water to grow crops and how the lakes get full because of the rains.

An interesting part to look at was also what they thought was an ideal scenario. These were some of the things that came up;

Rainwater being harvested properly

Water tankers should supply near school

Daily supply of water at home from taps

Taps in bathrooms

Plenty of water for farming

Drinking water for patients in the hospitals

Drinking water near bus stops and railway station.

Clean water for cooking food at home

Clean water for drinking

Water for the cattle

One that truly made me laugh and think at the same time is when a child in one of the groups wrote in her ideal scenario that she wanted clean water to wash the God's idols at home. I would have thought that would be last priority considering they do not have access to clean water for drinking and washing up for themselves! It is hope though, shows that some cultural practices are still top priority!

One of the teams ended with a neat quote, “We are from water, without water we are nothing. So, conserve water, its our duty”

Besides looking at the positive side, one group had attempted to look at the negatives as well. They said that if there is too much rain, it causes floods and if too less, draughts. Hence we need the right amount of it.

After they finished, we discussed each group's chart with the whole class and led the discussion towards the fluoride in the water that they drink and how they should help maintain the rain water harvesting tanks that are going to built in the school so that they can drink clean water and avoid getting fluorosis. Many of them did not even know what fluoride was and how it was harming them. We also told them what they could eat, to reduce fluoride content in their body (tamarind, ground nuts etc.)

A student presenting her groups chart

A song on water, sung by one of the students

Mr.Umesh, the person who makes the students understand what I am trying to tell them!

Insights after the workshop

> Even though water is something that they have problems with everyday, they were initially unable to relate the word itself to the fact that it was a problem, or anything associated with it. As soon as I said 'water', they were stuck and didn't know what to write except for the facts that they had learnt from their text books.

Things could/should be drawn from their personal experiences and what they see around them and not from factual matter.

> They were happy working in groups as all of them had something to contribute and helped each other out when they were stuck. Without me giving any orders, they nominated one or two people within their group (probably the ones who have best writing/drawing skills) to translate what they said onto the sheet.

> They need to move beyond their text books and be exposed to a practical way of learning and thinking. Using audio-visual aids might be helpful in this case.

Monday, July 19, 2010


When I freak out, post-its make me feel calm. They are like little boxes that hold matter that makes sense by themselves and as a whole, with many others. One day last week I felt like I was lost. To make things clearer for myself, I put up the various stages of the project (research, process, design/idea and user testing) and put under it, what I needed to do and what I have already done. I also made a mind-map of whatever I know of the current situation and problems in the village. Once half my cupboard door was filled with post-its, I felt calm again, like there was some matter after all.

Water testing

I got permission to visit the village again, just to immerse myself and talk a little more to the children and community. The last visit was a little hurried and short for me to get many insights. Mr.Vishwanath suggested that I take a fluoride testing kit with me. He also gave me a set of H₂S strip test bottles. I got them home with me to see how I could use them. The manual itself might need some help, but the instructions and reason behind each step is very clearly given. This kit contained 2 glass cylinders, a sample collection bottle, 2 bottles of Zirconyl Alizarin reagent and some ph paper. My room almost looked like my school chemistry lab while I was setting this equipment up! I liked that :)

Before trying to use the kit, I read up a little on why one needs to test for fluoride in water.

‘Excessive presence of fluoride in ground water and their health effects have become a major geo-environmental issue in many parts of the world, including India. Fluorosis is an endemic disease caused by intake of F in quantities more than permissible limit for a prolonged time. Long term intake of F ( > 1.5 ppm) leads to three types of abnormalities; dental fluorosis (teeth), skeletal fluorosis (bones) and non skeletal manifestations. Latest reports indicate that less fluoride is always better in water. According to Indian standards of drinking water, desirable limit for fluoride is 1mg/l which may exceed to 1.5mg/l. Fluoride may be kept as low as possible.

Sources: Naturally by rocks and minerals, tobacco, tooth paste and powder, tea, preservatives and medicines.

Here is a link by the India Water Portal on Fluoride water testing kits and other quality testing kits


I was given H₂S test bottles as well. These are used for testing the bacteriological content in water. It is a bottle in which the sample of water to be tested is put in. In the bottle, is a slide made of an inert plastic material coated with a nutrient. It is then shut and kept for a period of several hours or overnight. If, at the end of this period, the slide has acquired or changed colour it is an indication that the sample is contaminated. Tests for bacteriological contamination using such kits only indicate the presence or absence of contamination (also called a GO/NO GO result) and not its extent.

I tested the PH of the water I drink from the aqua-guard today! There was a PH strip test within the fluoride kit. It was around 7. The ph of normal portable water is around 6-8. I am hoping to show the children in the school how this works and make them test the water they use by themselves.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Not evolution, but a revolution in education

"And doing that, I think is the answer to the future because it's not about scaling a new solution; it's about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support based on a personalized curriculum."

"Reform is no use anymore, because that's simply improving a broken model. What we need -- and the word's been used many times during the course of the past few days -- is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else."

These very inspiring and powerful quotes are from the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson where he makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning -- creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish. I found this on a Anushka's blog. Both of us are working with children and looking at how their different needs can be addressed through working with them in new ways. This talk was really inspiring and makes me feel like I am in the right place doing the right thing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Design needs and opportunities - Round 1

The three schools I visited are ones that are getting rain-water harvesting tanks built on their roofs starting next week. They are going to get filtered rain water, free of fluoride and fit for drinking from the next month. I am going to try and define some needs and thus opportunities that I could take up.

Needs that I could address

> The children need to be aware of what the problem with their existing water is. Why they have dental fluorosis and how rain-water is going to help them.

> These tanks hold enough water for 150 days of the year (working days in school) and can provide just about 1litre per child during these days. Thus, it is important for them to conserve it while not compromising on their personal health and hygiene. Also, since it is only now that they are exposed to clean drinking water, it cannot be a direct 'save water' or 'use less water' message. It needs to be a subtle nudge that reminds them of what they should do.

> They need to come together and work with the teachers, as a community, in maintaining these tanks so that they feel a sense of ownership and can maintain the tanks well enough for them to function for long.

> There are many schools within a radius of 1-2 km. within this village. It would be good if this awareness spreads to them as well through some medium. It could then be scaled up. Even if it involves conducting workshops for 10 children from each school.

I would like to take up one of these schools first to see how much the students relate to water and what they feel the immediate need is. Do they even feel that there is a need for change? If so, how can I be involved in that?

Comparison of the three schools

Name of school

No. Of students + teachers




Fluoride level


295 + 9

1 to 7

Bore well water used in taps/ hand pumps

Very less. Interested in knowing and maintaining

2.82 ppm

C.K. Pura HPS

1 to 7

Bore well water used in taps. No drinking water in school

Administration interested in the RW systems. Kids are unaware

2.2 ppm

Rashtrapragathi High school


7 to 10

Bore water stored in a big tank to wash hands and plates

Little more aware of the water being contaminated etc. Students very eager to learn.

2.2 ppm

Visit to C.K. Pura

Yesterday was my long awaited site visit day and I left Bangalore at 5.45 am to reach Tumkur by 8 am. I was lost, but the scenic beauty kept me walking aimlessly till I found the office I needed to go to. The weather was just perfect and it already seemed like a good start. From there, I was taken to Pavagada taluk by car by the project coordinator from BIRD-K. It is practically inaccessible by road otherwise and the buses, I was told, would take too long. On both sides were lush green patches and hills and occasional ponds that made it picture perfect.

En route to Pavagada Taluk

We reached mid-day and I visited three schools in C.K Pura, a small village part of the Pavagada taluk, a taluk which comprises of more than 300 such villages.

C.K. Pura entance

BIRD-K office in C.K. Pura

Frankly I was amazed at the quality and maintenance of these Government schools. One would imagine that schools in such villages might not be attended to as much, but the campuses are inviting, exciting and there is a lot of scope for children to learn and play, only the exposure and awareness in missing. The first school I visited was

Magalavada HPS (Higher Primary School)

This is a government school with 295 students and 9 staff members. It has 12 rooms and classes from standard 1 to 7. This school is a chosen spot for the building of a rainwater harvesting tank and the teachers are excited about this prospect. (i.e. there is willingness to help maintain school property so that the children can get clean water). The government provides them with rice and some vegetables and this is used to cook mid-day meals for the children (rice and sambar).

Building and courtyard of Magalavada HPS

Kitchen where the mid-day meals are cooked

They are aware of the high fluoride levels in their water, but do not know what it is exactly and what to do about it. The current source of water is a bore well from which water is pumped up and used from taps and hand pumps. There is just enough water to cook and clean that the children carry bottles of water from home, to drink during their school hours. Even though medical check-ups are mandatory once a year, it is hardly ever conducted. A few people come, take a look at 5-10 children at one go and go back. Due to this, they are not even aware of which child might be affected by what disease or condition. A few of them are anaemic and the doctors have provided them with pills that the school makes sure they have every day. They say that this is what the government provides them with and they can’t afford anything else; not even tamarind and groundnuts, food items that help with the fluoride levels. There was an Aquaguard that the government had provided the school with, but the teachers did not know what to do with it and how to work it. So it lies in the office connected to nothing. They store water in plastic pots with lids for drinking.

An Aquaguard that is not fixed due to lack of information on how to use it

Storage of water for drinking in closed plastic containers

In this school, the teachers were even aware of how many kids had anaemia. They mentioned that medical check-ups were mandatory twice a year, but it never really happens that way. The doctors come once in a few months, to check a few of the kids and the school is provided with vitamins for children with deficiencies and anaemia. They teachers make sure the children eat these tablets.

The second one was C.K. Pura HPS, a sweet little campus with small hut like structures for classes. There are students from grade 1 to 7 in this school as well. It has a very well maintained garden and play area but the sanitation conditions are abysmal. The soak pits are clogged and hence the toilets cannot be used and the children go out near the big natural tank behind the school to relieve themselves and they wash up there before coming back to school. This is a problem for the girl children. Students here also bring a bottle of water with them from home, to drink due to unavailability of enough drinking water in the school campus. Many of these students are affected by dental fluorosis and they are not aware of what it is and how they got it. When asked, one student asked if it was because she didn’t brush right.

Entrance to the school

Garden/play area in the school

Children carry bottles of water to drink, from their houses

The last school I went to was Rastrapragathi High School. This is just one building with 3 rooms and a big play field. This is an amazing set-up because it started off as an initiative to encourage girl children to attend school. It was initially only for girls, but now, slowly it has expanded to accommodate a few boys too. This is a government supported private school. The government provides these children with cycles to go from their house to school everyday. This is also a great way of encouraging them to attend school. Only question though, is why only this one? It also provides them with uniforms. Since it began as a girls school, there is a small useable toilet at the side of the school as well. There is one large tank where children drink water from and also wash their plates after mid-day meals. Here, the children were more aware of the water conditions. When asked the same question about dental fluorosis, they replied saying that they knew it is because of bad water. They also wanted to know what they could do to make it go away.

Boys who have recently joined the school initially intended to encourage girls to attend school

Children affected by dental fluorosis. It is a common sight in these schools

Questionnaire for the visit

This was just a back up questionnaire as I didn't want to go there and be stuck for questions! I had to decide what I was going to ask the people I was going to meet. This was a start. Also something like this would help me compare the data between schools easily.

There are three groups of people I could interact with

1) Local people, parents and teachers who are part of the general village community and would know about the WATSAN conditions in that area and why it is the way it is

2) Children and students who are affected by it and are possible agents of change; through whom we can spread awareness to the entire community

3)Administration and people from the panchayat who are part of the decision making process

What do I want to ask them?

Category one

What are the water and sanitation conditions like in your village?

Have there been any rain water harvesting tanks built around here?

Do people maintain them or are they vandalised?

Do you feel that you are part of maintaining this?

Do you have any children? Do they go to school?

How are the WATSAN conditions there? Are they taught about this in school?

Do you know about general health and sanitation rules? Do you follow them?

Boiling water before drinking, having a bath, washing your hands with soap, covering soiled areas with ash?

Do you feel that the space outside your house should also be as clean as the inside or no?

Would you work with your community if it would improve the WATSAN conditions in your village?

Where do you get drinking water from? Water to wash hands and clothes etc? – Water sources in the village

Category two

Is the water you drink and wash your hands with, clean?

Do you know why many people in your village fall sick?

How does water affect/feature in your life? Is it important?

Tell me a few words that you relate with water.

Did your grandparents or parents ever tell you stories to do with water and water bodies?

Do you know what rain water harvesting tanks are?

Are you taught health and sanitation in school, if so, do you follow it at home?

Do you wash your hands with soap before eating and after using the wash room? If not, why?

Monday, July 12, 2010

09 to 12.07.'10: First review and POA

My review panel has three of my faculty/mentors from college. Rustam Vania, Mary Jacob and Vasanthi Das, and Mr.Vishwanath is my external mentor.These are the people whom I run to if I am dying. I had my first review with my college panel where I explained the context of this project and they gave me some pointers of where to go next.

I realised that the language barrier is a big one, after this meeting. I need to find someone who is interested in working in this space, with me or someone who can help me in communicating with the children and the community in Kannada. I know English, Tamil and Hindi and generally claim to understand Kannnada and Telugu (I actually can) but that doesn't really help my situation and I am a little scared because of this, but am sure something can be figured out. I wish languages were easy!

I will be visiting the village for the first time only tomorrow, and hence will have a clearer idea of the problems that need to be addressed. I am looking forward to the visit so that I can narrow down to the school I can work with and start ideating for workshop and design opportunities. From the background I was given by Mr.Vishwanath, there is this larger issue of fluorosis and clean water as well as lots of smaller issues to do with some of the rainwater harvesting tanks that have already been built and initiatives that have been taken. These people do not feel a sense of ownership to community tanks and spaces and this ends up being a problem. Vandalism, stealing and demolishing being some of them. So a point of focus for me would also include looking at how I can make this work as a community? How can I remove this barrier and make people think that public property was theirs? It is for them to use and maintain as it would help them to get clean water in future. I have been thinking of ways to do this starting with the children and trickling to the teachers and the administration of the school and village. Only if all of them are involved will there be a sense of 'working together as a community' and this is what is going to produce good effects.

If the sense of 'community maintenance' does not exist with the govt. rainwater tanks, I was wondering if it would be the same when it comes to hygiene? Personal vs. public. So will people wash their hands and themselves but still throw garbage onto the roads and use open spaces as toilets? A space that doesn't belong to them directly? That would be something to look at, and here behavioural change would also feature.

When I visit tomorrow, I need to know what questions to ask. There are six schools and thus I should ask the same questions so that parallels can be drawn when the data is compared,once I am back. So, the next task involves making a matrix or a questionnaire for tomorrows visit, and also maybe plan a small introductory activity to see what the children think of the water they are exposed to, how much they know about it and what their associations with this are.