A summer with GRAVIS

A summer with GRAVIS-page-001

“Expand our inner capacity for radical empathy to others, because when we are in community, when we are really sharing, when we are calling forth the depth and genius of the other, then we grow.” This quote was given in an interview by Jean Houston, writer and creator of the worldwide pop culture phenomenon, “Wizard of Oz” which showcases the journey of a young girl who dares to explore the depths of her own identity in an unknown land of limitless possibilities. I conclude my short month spent alongside GRAVIS with thoughts that are most difficult to capture in the medium of the English language, but are given at least a structure of discussion through the support of Ms. Houston’s beautiful quote. My time here was dedicated to the study of water scarcity and its intersection with the social power dynamics that are acting within the village of Jelu Gagadi, which serves as a home to GRAVIS’s oldest campus and the location of my study.

            The term scarcity is derived from the French word “escarte” meaning insufficiency. Within water governance, water scarcity is often thought of to be just that–an insufficient amount of water. This view of water scarcity is highly valuable and necessary in order to quantify the amount of water that should be available per capita to carry out individual and community functions, but the discussion of water scarcity often stops here.It has historicallyfailedto place value on the impact of social power dynamics in relation to how water scarcity might be differently experienced by various individuals. These narrow views of such a critical issue put our world in grave danger of failing to understand the entirety of the issue as well as our ability to bring comprehensive, sustainable solutions to the table. So what are some of the social power dynamics that come into play within water scarcity? While many different dynamics such as caste and communal hierarchies were observed to be at play within Jelu Gagadi, I found to be most pertinent dynamic was the that of gender, which was sharply present during the time spent in discussion with women.

            Twelve of the twenty-six women that participated in an interview with me were illiterate as observed through their inability to give a signature of consent before our discussion. They were luckily able to give consent of participation through a thumbprint, but what I found was that they struggled to articulate themselves when speaking. When asked about how their lives have changed since the construction of a water tanka on their property, responses were often limited to “I can relax now.”No elaboration on this was given, and if was difficult to squeeze much more out of them regardless of the fact that the addition of leisure into the routine of a woman who previously had spent several hours a day on water collection has been shown to drastically improve overall happiness and well-being. While I have no way of knowing what thoughts were running inside the minds of the women that I interacted with, I do know for a fact that they too encompass a “depth of genius” that is both undervalued and untapped simply due to their lack of opportunity to pursue an education.

            If simple words of explanation regarding personal experience with water cannot be articulated by a woman, how can she be expected to advocate for herself and her needs in times when water is in both short and abundant supply? How can she be expected to be able to explain to her husband and family members about the importance of allocating money towards the purchasing of sanitary pads when she and her daughters get their periods? How can she be expected to express to her husband that the construction of a toilet should be taken into consideration to ensure that their family stays safe and healthy? How can she be expected to advocate for better water storage infrastructure during community meetings when the thoughts that are held within her genius are not able to be shared?

            The community of Jelu Gagadi has seen great amounts of water storage and harvesting infrastructure come on the scene as a result of the amazing work of GRAVIS, so it might be seen from an outside perspective that the water scarcity problems that were previously plaguing families are now a thing of the past. This is partially true, and the construction of so much infrastructure deserves much celebration, but the inability of an illiterate woman to assert her right to water within a householdcannot be ignored. What has given me so much hope in light of an incredibly despairing situation is the mission of GRAVIS that puts women at the forefront of many of their initiatives. They understand the complexities of water scarcity and attack it from all sides by implementing programs to not only address the academic illiteracy of women, but also the financial literacy of women that is necessary in accessing the household budget that may or may not prioritize her water needs. Not enough applause in the world can be given to the caring individuals that work tirelessly to push the mission of GRAVIS forward, and my mind can rest easily knowing that the future of women and water within Jelu Gagadi lies in their hands.

Madison Weisend

12th May, 2018



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