As Jaishree’s article in this issue (Pg 20) illustrates, a simple, mechanical device like the waterwheel that some Rotary and Inner Wheels clubs in Mumbai have been giving to poor rural women in some villages of Maharashtra and Gujarat is proving to be a great boon to women. An innovative, semi-mechanical solution to transport water from the village well or community tap to their homes, the waterwheel is a cylindrical, high-density plastic drum that can hold about 45–50 litres of water. The sturdy container is fitted with a strong metal handle, which allows it to be rolled down any path or rough terrain like a trolley. It eliminates the physical strain of carrying pots on the head, or waist, and as the capacity is 45–50 litres, the number of trips can also be reduced.
We know that lakhs of Indian women not only in rural India, but also towns and cities, have to grapple with the task of carrying at least a few pots of water on their heads, because fetching water for household chores is considered a “woman’s job” in our communities. In drought-prone areas of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, tens of thousands of women walk a distance of 2–4 km with water pots on their heads for a couple of km. What this chore, day after day, month after month, year after year, does to their knees, back and shoulders can only be imagined.
But this novel device, which takes away the drudgery of carrying water over the head has caught the fancy of not only children, both boys and girls, who readily volunteer to roll the water cylinder home, but also the men, who are volunteering to take on the task of bringing water home 3–4 days a week, freeing the women to concentrate on chores which are less taxing physically.
The waterwheel was developed thanks to the initiative of Cynthia Koenig, founder and chief executive of Wello, an American social enterprise working to explore ways to deliver clean water in developing countries like India and Africa. She first came on an exploratory trip to Rajasthan in 2010, and discussed with villagers the option of rolling water instead of carrying it. Expectedly, the women loved the idea and she returned a year later, and worked in close collaboration with these villagers. After several trips and experiments with water drums/cylinders of various capacities such as 10, 20, 30 and 50 litres, she zeroed in on cylinders that could carry 45–50 litres of water. Cynthia was pleasantly surprised to find the waterwheel’s popularity among the men, and was happy that in many village homes, the men happily shared this chore with their wives!
Apparently, this device is also popular in some pockets in Africa, where it is known as the hippo wheel and can carry water up to 100 litres. In India a commercial plastic product manufacturer, Nilkamal, makes these waterwheels under the Wello brand and Rotary gets it at a discounted price of `2,100 and distributes it at only `100 to the women. Amrish Daftary, member of RC Bombay Hanging Garden, RID 3141, tells Rotary News that from March 2016, his team has distributed over 4,000 waterwheels in various villages in Gujarat and Maharashtra. With RI President Shekhar Mehta asking clubs to do bigger and bolder projects, and a single, young Rotary club — RC Delhi Ananta — launching a project of over `8.5 crore, (detailed in this issue), the project to distribute waterwheels to poor, rural women needs much more patronage from the over 4,000 Rotary clubs in India.