The urge to return: a volunteer’s experience

The following is the transcription of a speech given by H.A.V.E. member Gerry Feltham to the Men’s Fellowship Camp at Loon Bay describing his motivation for helping the people of India.

Reliable statistics indicate that 40% of the world’s population lack access to adequate sanitation; over1 billion people are without clean drinking water; and with safe drinking water and sanitation, each year the death of nearly 2 million people can be prevented.  Forgive us, Lord, God, we know about the unnecessary suffering and dying in our world but fail to help them sufficiently.

For 3 weeks earlier this year, my wife and I along with 2 other volunteers (a man from St. John’s and another from West Vancouver) visited 36 villages in 4 states of southeast India where H.A.V.E. has supplied artesian wells. Since 1981, I have personally been to India 15 times. In each visit the crowds, sounds, smells, traffic congestions, and numerous other amazing sights have astonished and challenged my senses.  Usually, at the end of each visit, I have said : “That is my last. I cannot go through that experience again.” However, soon the images of the people’s smiling, welcome faces shine through the thoughts of the confusion, the poverty, the maimed, the crippled, the lepers, the sick, the frightful needs of an immensely populated society. Soon I feel the urge to return again to India.  Do you want to come with me?

Always I have to keep in mind that the needs of India are practically overwhelming. No one person, no one group, and no one government can meet the basic requirements of that sub-continent. Consequently, one has to go there with a particular focus. For many, many years (especially since my retirement from social work and teaching) my special interest has been to assist very needy villages of our world, to get safe drinking water. To work towards that goal, in 1982 my  friends and I established H.A.V.E. Canada and now, about 30 years later, our voluntary NGO has supplied about 900 potable water systems to as many villages or to about 180,000 families or close  to 1 million people.

H.A.V.E.’s purpose has always been to enable the affluent villages of Canada to help the poorest villages of the world community. Glovertown is a good illustration of this purpose being realized. Since 1999, when the H.A.V.E. Walks For Water started in the Glovertown area, enough money  has been raised (along with equal matching from CIDA) to supply about 140 artesian wells to as many villages in India. H.A.V.E.’s achievement is a mere drop towards meeting that country’s need but a vital one to the men, women, and children being helped. In an effort to solve the drinking water crisis in Africa, India and elsewhere, can you imagine the potential, if, for instance 100 towns and villages in Newfoundland (yes, and in each of the other provinces in Canada)  provided each year 10 wells ? Of course, I’m a dreamer but has anything worthwhile been accomplished without a dream?

When we entered villages in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and West Bengal, we were usually given a tremendous welcome while visiting their artesian well, provided by H.A.V.E. There the village women pumped pots of water, and carried them on their heads to their grass roof, mud-walled huts. At the well site, the villagers told us their stories re: (1) how the well is maintained and protected (2) if possible, they took us to their previous polluted water sources and talked about their awful experience with water-borne diseases and diarrhoeal conditions; and (3) walking long distances to another village where often fights occurred at the well head due to its limited water supply or having to beg water from a landowner, who often demanded special services from them, whenever he turned on his agricultural well’s electric or diesel pump and /or dipping water from his pesticide-treated rice paddy.

I wish you could have heard, too, and seen their joy as they talked about the many benefits of their own village well (through H.A.V.E.’s efforts) near to their homes. Now, no longer do the mothers and daughters have to walk daily to another village to get 1-2 pots of water and to experience the sickness and even deaths in their families due to water contamination. Now, with a good supply of well water in their village, and having more time and energy with less worry about illnesses, the mothers are taking better care of their children’s health and education and their basic household chores and, some families have taken up small cottage industries. Now, some families have kitchen gardens of vegetables and fruit for themselves and … so the benefits of having a village well of safe drinking water goes on and on. The villages are being transformed for the better. The villagers have especially a good reason to remain in developing rural communities; and there to bring up their children. Finally, I should add that the villagers expressed to us their sincerest appreciation to the Canadians who have enabled them to have wells of good, fresh water.

To assure love and peace on earth we must eliminate the excessive poverty experienced by our unfortunate brothers and sisters in our neighbourhood and abroad. We must, for instance, help the thousands to millions of families of our planet who are being forced to leave their villages, where food, water, and opportunities are insufficient, to migrate to appalling city slums or to overcrowded refugee camps. We must act now before more and more imminent, foreseeable crises arise. Enabling the very needy to get safe drinking water in their villages is certainly an essential beginning.

Thank you.

Gerard (Gerry) Feltham

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