For many years Karuna-Shechen has been developing the Small Money, Big Change program in Bihar and Jharkhand areas of Northern India. Its aim is to improve the daily lives of villagers by working closely with them to develop specific l and sustainable solutions to problems they identify for themselves.

This way, the populations we help grow more resilient, because we work side by side to implement solutions adapted to their daily life. We provide villagers with the tools and knowledge they need to sustainably manage local resources and concretely contribute to the well-being of their community.

Social mapping, construction, training of monitoring committees, creation of bank accounts – to each village its solution. This year, the majority of these projects focus on one major issue: water.

Overcoming water challenges

Water is the most common concern voiced by villagers across Northern India. Because there are few publicly funded facilities and limited infrastructure each village faces their own specific challenges.

Agriculture is an integral part of villagers’ concerns about water. The annual monsoon can cause flooding, damage crops and endanger the population. With global warming these rains have become shorter and more intense, which makes the villagers increasingly vulnerable. In Pachhan, Gaya district, during the monsoon villagers struggle to get through deep water to their farmland, which is a journey fraught with danger.

On the other hand, water shortages are increasingly frequent and feared by farmers who see their land drying up and cannot produce enough food. As weather conditions in the Northern regions of India become more and more extreme, temperatures between March and June often reach 40°C and on many days there is no rain at all, which significantly dries out the soil. Such is the case in the village of Sundarkumhari in Bihar where agriculture is the community’s main activity but .. in recent years the region has not received sufficient rainfall which forced many of the villagers to abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities in search of alternative livelihoods. Unfortunately during the Covid pandemic many young people lost their urban jobs and their livelihoods and needed to return to live in their home villages where the water related agricultural challenges continued. The same problem has affected other villages such as Kurmawan.

Dineswar, a 65-year-old farmer, had decided to abandon farming because of the recurrent water shortage in his village in recent years.

But the pandemic taught us that agriculture may be the only means of sustenance in times of crisis. So, in order to resolve the problem of irrigation we villagers came to the conclusion that we urgently needed a water body.

Many villagers in our intervention areas needed to travel to fetch water or ration it to have enough to cook with and maintain daily hygiene. This had a huge impact on the quality of life for these people and the lack of sustainable water sources caused a daily struggle. In many communities the village well is the only significant water source but often it is in very poor condition and does not not provide sufficient water.

Working hand in hand with villagers

The projects we are involved with aim to improve the quality of life and the living conditions of the people we work with.. By creating better access to and management of water in the villages, we facilitate agriculture, enhance food availability, and promote hygiene for individuals and enhance the community.

Together with 350 villagers in Pachhan, Gaya district, we built facilities to deal with the monsoon rains that cause flooding. By Installing drainage channels to contain the water, the culvert makes agricultural fields accessible during the rainy season and allows tractors to reach farms without difficulty, thus facilitating plowing and other agricultural activities.

Numerous retention ponds have also been dug in villages in response to the growing concern about drought. These facilities provide better access to drinking water. This is the case for the pond in the village of Kurmawan with a population of 625. The pond should enable the community to escape the water shortage it faces for most of the year, especially during the dry summers. It meets individual domestic water needs as well as subsistence needs, including agricultural irrigation and fish farming.

Dineswar, a villager, says : “Karuna has given us a new pond that will solve our irrigation problems. Now the villagers have enough water, even in summer, to do their household chores. This makes me very happy ! “

Shersingh is the father of a family of six. As the sole breadwinner, he was a daily worker in the city. Today, back in the village of Kazibigha, he tells us about his experience: “At the beginning we were all worried but the Karuna-Shechen staff were constantly there to guide us. They organized meetings with the whole village and I was able to really get involved in the implementation of the project. I learned a valuable lesson: there is strength in unity. We, the community members, along with the Karuna-Shechen team, worked together to make the pond project a reality.”

His testimony demonstrates our local approach within the Small Money, Big Changes programme.

In order to improve water management in some villages, we have rehabilitated facilities that had become obsolete. For example, the village of Koikala and its 75 inhabitants have benefited from the repair of their well. The entire distribution of drinking water as well as the cultivation of vegetable gardens is now possible again.

Despite the challenges of difficult travel for meetings and the teams’ fear of the second particularly deadly wave of the Covid pandemic, we managed to organize ourselves to meet health standards without abandoning the important work in the field.

This year we have managed to undertake significant community development work despite the second and more deadly wave of Covid-19. We have already built four ponds and one well under the Small Money, Big Changes programme. We have been able to adapt to keep up the efforts !

Shamsul Akhtar, Karuna-Shechen India’s Director of Operations

Now, more than ever, our teams are taking action in the field by redoubling their efforts. In these difficult times, every gesture of solidarity counts.