An Adventurous Discovery Tour into Rural India

By Gerard (Gerry) Feltham

A Report of Our Tour (as seen from my perspective)


For 3 weeks in Dec./04- Jan./05 my wife and I had visited several villages in rural India. Therefore, I figured that it would be a few more years before I would consider a return trip there. However, my very good friend, David Phillips in West Vancouver E-mailed me in May/06, to express his interest to go with a group into some of the Indian villages where H.A.V.E. with CIDA has provided (since 1982) at least 600 bore (artesian) wells. David requested me to set up such a group Tour, and indicated that he would participate.

Consequently, through an E-mail announcement to my relatives and friends, I introduced the possibility of such a Tour and extended an invitation to become involved. However, it was not until this past November and December that a group of 6 persons (including myself) committed themselves; and the Tour became definite. In January, each person purchased his/her own return tickets to/from India. And between Jan.26-30, the following persons (in the order of their arrival ) assembled at the headquarters of the West Bengal Gandhian Peace Foundation (WBGPF) in South Kolkata (Calcutta), India: Gerard Feltham, founding H.A.V.E. member (Glovertown, NL); John Beachli, retired stonemason and Rotarian (Haliburton, ON);David Phillips, carpenter and past H.A.V.E. chairman (West Vancouver, BC); Ron Reid, scientist and current H.A.V.E. chairman (Minden,ON); Elizabeth Ferguson, retired travel agent and sales clerk (West Vancouver, BC); and Judy Phillips, nurse (West Vancouver, BC). The Tour officially started on Feb.1 and lasted until Feb 16, during which time several villages and projects were visited in the states of West Bengal, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh.

The tremendous success of this Tour was largely due to: (a) computer technology through which numerous messages were transmitted between the participants, particularly the 6 Canadian volunteers who comprised the Tour group and H.A.V.E.’s
4 partners, which now includes WBGPF, in India: (b) the understanding, cooperative nature of those who were intrinsically a part of the Tour; and (c) the responsibility assumed and taken by each participant, thus averting blame on any one person and conferring credit on all persons. Fortunately, through SGUS’ secretary, Biswajit Ghorai, very suitable accommodation and meals, at the very beginning, were arranged for us at the WBGPF Headquarters during our stay in the Kolkata area.

The Tour’s Main Objective:

Four of the six persons were visiting India for the first time. Consequently, they, along with all of us, were anxious to gain general insights about India. However, from my stand point, the main objective of the Tour was for the participants to see the necessity and effectiveness of H.A.V.E.’s developmental efforts (projects) in rural India; and, hopefully, afterwards have the desire to become actively involved (in some voluntary way) with assisting the needy in India and elsewhere; as well as to encourage others in Canada (and elsewhere) to do likewise. Only, in time will it be determined if the Tour’s objective was achieved.

Accommodation, Transportation, Welcoming and Meals:

Each of our Indian Partners did a splendid job with providing our group with adequate accommodation either at an Administrative Centre (SGUS) or in a cheap (RUCHC) to a modestly priced (SUCHI) hotel. Transportation,(usually via a jeep or a van) from /to railway stations to our NGO Partners and while visiting the many village project sites, was quite satisfactory. The welcoming receptions at both the NGO headquarters and in each of the villages, especially where H.A.V.E. has already provided a well, were, at times, quite overwhelming. For instance, presentations of garlands, fresh coconut milk, tea and biscuits; local bands with dancing children and colourfully dressed dancing girls and women leading us to the well sites; and platform performances by well trained beautifully costumed children and young people were some of the exuberant expressions of (a) welcome into their areas; and (b) thankfulness for the benefits of their safe drinking water facilities. During our stay with them, each of our Indian Partners prepared and provided us with excellent meals. It was obvious that special care went into making them very safe, sufficient, and delicious, with ample seasonal fruits. For the first time ever, in my 10 or so visits to India, I gained weight.

The following are some specifics re: some of the project activities,
as conducted by our NGO Partners (in the order of our visit):

1. West Bengal Gandhian Peace Foundation (WBGPF):
c/o Mr. Chandan Pal, secretary,
Sarvodaya Park, P.O. Duilya, Howrah, 711302, W.B., India.

In the morning, before the arrival of the 2 ladies, the 4 men of our group attended WBCPF’s special ceremony in memory of Mahatma Gandhi (Jan. 30/48, his assassination date); and then afterwards took part in the distribution of its monthly food and monetary aid to several destitute elderly persons of its neighbourhood. (This particular “aid” is being provided via funds from Help The Aged, UK.).

On Jan.31, Mr Pal hired a vehicle large enough to transport all 6 of us into a few of the villages (just east of Kolkata) where WBGPF has such active projects as (a) rain water harvesting (large, deep rectangular dug ponds, to collect and hold rain water); (b) organic farming (providing a variety of vegetables for household consumption and marketing); and (c) other income generating activities, such as nurseries for bethel leaves and herbal medicines.

It should be particularly noted that the ponds, mentioned above, provided especially such benefits as fish and fruit productions as well as contributing to the underground drinking water supply in the area. Also, WBGPF was assisting landless families to develop such ponds, organic farming plots, and other income –generating activities.

2. Sarbik Gram Unnayan Sangha (SGUS):
c/o Mr. Biswajit Ghorai, secretary,
Boalia Village, P.O. Baraibarh,
Midnapore District, W.B., 721626, India.

To get to Boalia Village from Kolkata, our group took a local train to Mascada, and from there Biswajit hired a big jeep to take us to SGUS’ base centre.

During our visit (Feb.1-3) with SGUS, we were quite occupied through the following programmes:

a) WELCOMES at both SGUS’ new Eye Hospital, and its Nursery School (located in a little building behind the Hospital). Just prior to the School’s WELCOME, Ron gave Biswajit the $700 (from H.A.V.E. to the School) for such basic items as benches and other furniture, a musical instrument, and one 3 bicycle wheeled school van. (This amount of money was raised through the efforts of Toos and Ron Reid; and Yuvadee and Gerard Feltham.). A little later we were involved with the Inauguration of the Eye Operation Camp, followed with the first operation taking place at the Hospital. Also, near the end of our visit with SGUS, the Nursery School students, their teachers and assistants (all colourfully dressed) put on an excellent cultural performance of local dances. At that time, too, we met the M.L.A.of Midnapore District who was present for the performance.

b) VISITS to several villages (and with many villagers), including 2 girls’ schools where, in most of them, H.A.V.E. has provided safe drinking water via bore wells.. At each well site much concern was expressed and discussed re: the importance for the villagers themselves to care for and to maintain their well (particularly the pump, platform, and drainage); to prevent contamination of the well water; and to utilize properly the spillage at the well site; and

c) OSERVATIONS by seeing in action some of the “Women’s Development Programmes” under SGUS’ guidance. In particular, it was quite encouraging to observe a number of women (and actually one man) weaving (at their looms in their village homes) colourful, durable cloth and one woman doing very intricate needle-point work. Apparently, their products are being especially sold at the market place in Kolkata. This cottage (home) industry and others (such as tailoring, rice-processing, poultry, and basket-making) have enabled poor illiterate to semi-illiterate women to provide substantially for themselves and their families. (A long-standing H.A.V.E. member has, through his personal contributions through H.A.V.E., assisted a number of such women, in their micro credit, self-employment schemes.

A Note re: transportation between NGOs:
To get from SGUS to RUCHC, it was necessary for us to take (on Feb. 4th) an all day East Coast train from Mascada to Bhubaneswar, Orissa, and from their via taxi to Puri, (arriving 10 pm) where we stayed for 2 days and 3 nights at a medium priced hotel, near the beach. The group deemed it necessary to have a recreational break before reaching RUCHC (and visiting more villages), which is far off the beaten track—the main railway system. Our visit to Puri, and the temple site in nearby Konarak, is a story in itself which, possibly, could be best told by others in the group.
To reach RUCHC, we had to get off the train (which started from Puri) at Vizianagaram, and from there take an early morning bus for 7-8 hours into the Eastern Ghats, to the town of Nabarangpur.

3. Rural Community Health Centre (RUCHC)
c/o Ms. Nishita Dandsena, Director,
Nabarangpur, Orissa, 764059, Orissa, India

Due to the somewhat arduous route to and from RUCHC, our group could spare only one and a half days and 2 nights in Nabarangpur District. However, a tremendous amount was achieved within this short stay. Over the 20 plus years of RUCHC’s existence, it has provided many services to numerous villages. With the recent sudden passing of its founder, Dr. Dandsena, RUCHC is now under the presidency of his daughter, Nishita, who is being assisted by her sister, their mother, and a small dedicated staff of multi- purpose workers. Within RUCHC there is a very strong determination to re-establish its roots of service, primarily to the poor, relatively neglected, tribal peoples of the District and for the NGO to grow, particularly in accordance to the needs of the 15 villages which are presently targeted.

Scattered throughout Nabarangpur District, H.A.V.E. has supplied, over many years, nearly 100 bore wells to numerous needy villages. During this brief visit, we managed to go into 6 villages (most of which have wells provided via H.A.V.E.), namely: Dalaiguda, Semla, Kelia, Kusumbandh, Nuaguda, and Kamta. At each of the well sites, much discussion with the villagers took place re: the importance of maintaining the well properly, especially repairing the hand pump before it malfunctions and breaks down. It was recognized that certain pumps were already nearing that stage. Also, it was emphasized that it is essential to keep the spillage water off the platform and away from the well-head, in order to prevent any possibility of contaminating the well’s subterranean water supply as well as to properly utilize the excess water, wherever possible, for kitchen garden production and other useful purposes.

In 3 out of the 6 villages visited, RUCHC’s staff dramatized rather effectively through “Awareness Programmes” re: the necessity of obtaining and maintaining safe drinking water (such as their bore well); and re: the causes and preventions of HIV/AIDS and the required care of its victims. (Apparently HIV/AIDS is fairly ramped in this part of India.) Also, during our visits to the villages, RUCHC conducted one short programme re: Mother and Child Care and emphasized the importance of Immunization for their children. (At a Welcoming Ceremony for us at the Base Centre, Nishita gave a detailed report of RUCHC’s project activities in Nabarangpur District. I have her Report; and it is available for you to read.)

Another Note re: transportation between NGOs
In order to have a safer, quicker, and more comfortable journey than via the local bus, our group hired a big jeep to take us from Nabarangpur to the railway station in Visakhapatnam, from where we proceeded overnight to Chennai (Madras). Although our train was considerably delayed, still we were very fortunate to be met on the train platform by 2 SUCHI staff members. In SUCHI’s big van, we were driven to Vellore, where we settled in a modestly priced hotel, not too far from SUCHI’s Headquarters.

4. Social Unit for Community Health and Improvement (SUCHI)
c/o Paul and Glory Vijayakumar, Directors,
26 Balaji Nagar,
Katpadi, Vellore, 632007, Tamil Nadu, India.

Although SUCHI’s functional office is in Tamil Nadu, most of its social service activities (Projects), including its well established “Rural Resource” and “Vocational Training” Centres, are situated in Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh (bordering T.N.). Consequently, the last 3 days (Feb. 12-15) of our Tour were spent almost entirely in the rural area of Chittoor, particularly in villages where H.A.V.E. has supplied bore wells.
Our programmes with SUCHI went as follows:

a) A warm , formal WELCOME with an “overview” presentation of SUCHI and its ongoing activities;

b) Eight (8) visits to villages where H.A.V.E. has provided bore wells, including an Early Learning Centre (for pre-school children), and the Sherman Girl’s High School (in Chittoor city). The villages visited were : Perakoor, Gollapalli, Vardarajulapalli, Perumalapalli, Sapthagiri, Potukanuma, and Ammeyapalli. As indicated earlier in this report, much discussion with the villagers occurred: re the importance of carefully maintaining their new bore well facilities. Some of the village wells had already electric pumps which are daily storing their drinking water supply in appropriate reservoirs from where it gravity flowed to a number of tap stands on the road in front of their homes (huts). The respective village Well Committees were able, wherever possible, to persuade their local municipal (Panchayath) governments to assist them with getting electric pumps and other requirements for this enclosed, drinking water system. (In my opinion, where the electricity and the water source are available and adequate, this “enclosed system” is perhaps far superior to the hand pumps, since it most likely reduces the possibility of water contamination, water spillage, and frequency of pump damage.);

c) A visit to a newly constructed Watershed Project and a proposed well site in the nearby village of Venkatesh Nagar.(To understand the benefits of such a Watershed Programme, note my comments re: “Rainwater Harvesting” under WBGPF.); and

d) Apart from the Early Learning Centre (mentioned previously), other special events attended were:

  1. SUCHIs’ Rural Training Centre, to meet several young men (in a 2 year Carpentry programme) and to see their fine products which were produced with quite simple, basic tools, and very limited materials;
  2. The magnificent and very colourful performance put on for us by the students at Sherman Girls High School (in Chittoor). Afterwards a choral group and their little band paraded us through a corridor of beautifully dressed ( in handsome sarees) teenage girls, who were throwing petals of flowers in the path that lead us to the bore well, provided by H.A.V.E.. Their show of sincere appreciation for their well and for our visit to their school (as also we experienced in all the villages) was practically overwhelming;
  3. An “awareness programme” on safe drinking water was quite effectively dramatized by some of SUCHI’s staff in the village of Ammeyapalli. The villagers listened and looked intensely as the performers made them aware of the necessity of getting safe drinking water; and how they must guard against its contamination and wastage; and
  4. Our participation at the Vocational Training Centre in one of SUCHI’s Orientation Programmes, on bore well maintenance and repairs of the Indian Mark 2 hand pump (the one that H.A.V.E. uses at all its well sites). On the spot, this pump was taken apart and re-assembled by 2 pump experts from the local government office and SUCHI’s staff. The function of each pump part was explained as well as the importance of having these parts kept in good repair and replaced when broken. (The simplicity, effectiveness, and durability of this particular pump were quite apparent.) The necessity of keeping the pump properly maintained and the pump, platform, and well site generally protected (from misuse and abuse) was emphasized. Fortunately, most of SUCHI’s staff and representatives from many of the villages (where bore wells existed) were present at this special Orientation session (for 2-3 hours); and much questioning and discussing took place.

A General Comment and a Special Appreciation:

There was practically 100% attendance and participation, by all members of our Tour group, at all the events prepared by our Indian NGO Partners, except, regrettably, when, near the end, 2 persons in our group (for special medical reasons) were unable to attend some of SUCHI’s functions. On the whole, it seemed that each and every one of us are particularly pleased and appreciative for having had the opportunity to have seen, experienced and learned so very much in such a short about urban and rural India. For this opportunity we are especially thankful for all the efforts, the care, and the assistance of many friends and partners in WBGPF, SGUS, RUCHC, and SUCHI.

Concluding Remarks

Since 1981 I have visited India, mostly the rural areas, at least 10 times, still I freely acknowledge that the India society remains for me a challenge to understand and a mystery to fathom. However, what continues to be certain is that India is a “survival society” that compels every one (no matter where one is in its land) to be on the alert, in order to survive. Consequently, one of the main features of its character is “aggressiveness”, as is obviously expressed through its millions of beggars (from the children to the elderly) and its teeming business persons of all kinds. Although such a feature can be rather demanding and stressful, even overwhelming for many visitors, still it is a powerful, dynamic which contributes, not just to India’s survival, but also towards making her a vibrant, developing country—a nation state to be reckoned with in this new millennium. Therefore, in each of my visits I have been usually amazed to note the contrast between (a) the rapidity of technical progress as may be seen in communication, transportation, and electrification and (b) the slowness in handling the vast persistent social needs (problems) as revealed through education, health, and general human welfare.
Although national and international NGOs along with numerous governmental (at all levels) agencies are making valiant efforts to attend to India’s intrinsic problems, the following difficulties (to mention just a few) constantly confront its citizenry, particularly India’s massive poor:

a) The millions of landless people who are without regular employment except,sometimes, brief periods of seasonal work (especially in villages) at practically slave-like conditions for possible $200 per year;

b) The millions of slum dwellers (particularly in urban areas) who are literary working themselves to the bones and to death, pulling humans (in rickshaws) and carrying (on their backs, bicycles, and carts) all sorts of very heavy loads of goods to and from markets and businesses, with very little compensation for their labour;

c) The millions of persons (from the very young to the elderly, in all sorts of physical and emotional conditions) who are forced or who choose to beg or to steal, in order to survive;

d) The approximate one million children who die each year from diarrhoeal diseases, directly as a result of unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions; as well as the approximate 45 million people affected by the water quality caused by pollution (such as, excess fluoride, arsenic, iron, and the ingress of salt water) and by not having adequate quantities of safe drinking water, particularly during the very hot dry season;

e) The millions of women and girls who are walking, often long distances, to wells in other villages (of other castes and/or tribes) or to a landowner’s agriculture well (sometimes with water polluted with pesticides). Such daily, exhausting treks result frequently in conflicts with the neighbouring villagers and /or with the landowners who demand sometimes a day of free labour or sexual favours for a householder’s pot of water. Similarly, the females have to frequently search for combustible materials, to keep the home fires burning (or cooking). Because of the mothers’ absence from the homes, the other needs of the children, other family members, and other household chores have to be neglected; and the opportunity to earn a little income via a little cottage (home) industry or outside the home is considerably reduced or denied.

f) Particularly in certain parts of rural India, millions of the males and especially the females are illiterate to semi-illiterate; and the growth of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases are rapidly increasing;

g) In metropolitan cities, particularly, the traffic congestion (of human, animal, and vehicles); and the resulting atmospheric pollution are becoming almost unimaginable;

h) It seems that somewhere in the Indian subcontinent natural disasters occur fairly frequently, some of which may not even get into the world news. Here are some tragic yearly consequences:

  1. Floods from the ocean’s raging storms (particularly in the Bay of Bengal), as well as the ravishing torrential rains from the no longer predictable monsoons;
  2. Severe crop failures and the resulting deaths of humans and farm animals, due to intense drought conditions, before the monsoons arrive and especially when they do not come. With either floods or drought, surface water sources become even more contaminated and, in some areas, water is relatively non-existent.Therefore, flooding, drought, earthquakes (less so) seem to be almost normal yearly calamities somewhere in India, afflicting the lives of numerous families and destroying their possessions, and seriously disrupting the budgetary plans of all levels of governments; and finally,
  3. What can be said about India’s vast population (presently 1.3 or .4 billion) which is seemingly fast growing? In spite of the efforts being made by both governmental and non-governmental organizations to keep the population to a minimum, still millions of new births (over deaths) continue to increase India’s population.

Although India’s difficulty may appear staggering, it needs to be recognized and not underestimated that one safe drinking water well (as provided through H.A.V.E./CIDA) is vitally essential to the survival and protection (against devastating diseases) of many families in one needy village. As a consequence the members of these families (or the inhabitants of their village) have now the opportunity (beyond mere survival) through various ways and means to develop (through improved education, better health and hygiene, and overall productivity) themselves, and to influence constructively others, with whom they may associate, to do likewise. In other words, such water wells are, in a real sense, seeds of hope, love, and peace (principles handed down to us all from the teachings and influences of our forefathers/mothers to the depths of such powerful spiritual forces as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Prophet Mohammad, Jesus Christ, and Gautama Buddha) are being continually planted upon our earth. Through the provision of wells to the needy of our world community (in India and elsewhere) we are enhancing the welfare of our fellow humans and diminishing the necessity of warfare.


As our Tour started with the assembling of 6 persons (now friends) in Kolkata, it terminated on Feb.16, when each of us decided amicably to go his/her own way from Vellore to other parts of South India, S.W. Asia, and Canada.

Since Ron’s return to his home in Minden, Ont., he (as H.A.V.E. chairman) has already received from our respective Indian Partners, the following project proposals (with more to be expected):

  1. SGUS—72 new bore wells (already before CIDA for matching funds);
  2. RUCHC—Programmes re: General Awareness about Bore Wells’ Maintenance, Sanitation, HIV/AIDA, and Community Health Care, especially that of Mothers and their Children; and
  3. SUCHI—(a) 35 new bore wells;
    (b) Women’s Skills Development;
    (c) Young Men in their Carpentry Training.

It is hoped that all 6 members of our group will, in due time, take a special interest in these (listed above)and other such project proposals by helping others to understand the importance of these proposals and to find financial support, to make them actual project realities.

Amid India’s massive poor, there shines a “Beautiful Smile”! Through our efforts, let us enable the villagers of India to have good reason to keep smiling; and to radiate such a lovely feature throughout our world.