I remember the day I arrived at Gavra's one room stone-slab hut in Dayakaur, a village in Rajasthan, India. A new house was under construction next to her residence. Gavra's husband, Ram Lal yelled down to me as he was laying down stone slabs, telling me they were grateful for the taanka. I too felt grateful especially for the opportunity to interview his wife.
Before receiving her taanka, Gavra would wake at 3 am to make the six mile walk to collect water at the village naadi, a rainwater catchment pond. She made the walk five times a day in the debilitating heat. Each load she carried consisted of two pots, each weighing 45 lb., balanced on her head.
When Gavra invited me into her home, she took off her purdah, (a scarf used to veil her face). I admired her strong, serene beauty. She offered to make us tea, but I politely refused, not wanting to add more work to her household duties. I felt a sense of anxiety from Gavra because our meeting was taking her away from her work, but as our conversation unfolded, I could sense her relax for the first time as she realized she had an opportunity to tell her story to another woman in her own voice. With the help of a translator, Gavra shared her hardships, her tears, her emotions, and, finally, her joys with me (especially now that she has a taanka).
Gavra, can you tell me about what your life was like before thetaanka was built?
"As soon as I moved in with my husband there were a lot of problems with scarce water. My mother-in-law did not did not allow me to have water to drink or bathe. I asked her where to get water and she told me about the naadi (rainwater catchment pond). So I started walking there several times a day with pots to carry water home and by the time I would get back I was so tired, but I could not rest. I had to do other chores like cooking, grinding wheat for flour, and milking the cows. I was not facing this problem when I was living at my parent's house as a girl."
What was it like to walk for water every day?
"The naadi was so far from our home. No water source was nearby so there was no other option for me. All the time the worry for water would come into my mind. When I was falling asleep, I was thinking that I had to wake up early in the morning and go to the naadi to get water. I couldn't get proper sleep from all the worrying. And when I woke up, again that anxiety for water stayed in my mind. Before I had the taanka I did not even have an appetite for food. Water was always on my mind."
How did this impact your children?
"Our whole family faced very bad conditions before the taanka. I would take my children with me so they could help me carry water. We needed water for everything, like washing clothes, cooking, but sometimes we didn't have enough water for 4 to 5 days. To brush our teeth, we had to share 1 cup of water. Whatever water I carried in pots was used for drinking only - there was no water for bathing, so how could the kids go to school without bathing?"
Will you tell me more about what it's like to live in your mother-in-law's household?
"I could not get angry with her, it's all about the bondage of purdah and being subservient to my husband and in-laws. I could not speak to anyone and I had to keep my face covered. I never showed anger to my mother-in-law, I was just scared of her and I would cry. When I remember my bad days I still cry. My mother-in-law was so rude towards me in those times. She would not allow me a to take bath. I give blessings to you and the taanka that has changed my life."
Gavra began to cry. I could see the recollection of these times was very painful for her and I felt deeply touched by her pain. As she spoke more my own tears began to flow.
"When I took even a small cup of water from the pot my mother-in-law would say very bad things to me. She did not allow me to take water for my children from the pots we carried. I saw my children thirsty but I couldn't do anything for them. She kept her eyes on the pots at all times. I felt very bad for my kids, food is not necessary everyday but water is necessary for life."
Did you ever have to sacrifice your own needs for your family's survival?
"There was such a scarcity of water that I couldn't grow food to feed our family. Whatever I cooked, I gave to my family first. Many times I sacrificed my share of food for my children. I went hungry often."
How has the taanka helped to alleviate some of these hardships for you and your family?
"With the taanka I am growing crops and now we are getting enough food each day. Everyone eats and no one has to sleep with an empty stomach like before.
Now I am working in the government school next to my place. I cook there for three hours a day. It is the same school where my two children are going. Before the taanka they called me for this job but I couldn't take it because I was walking for water. Both my husband and I are now earning money and due to the taanka this new house is possible.
Now I can fulfill my children's needs, like food, school supplies and clothes. I am not facing any problems after the taanka. I am so happy because now I can think about things I have never thought about before. I can say to myself, 'Yes! I can do other things now, too!'"
Do you think a taanka could change other women and their family's live?
There are many other women who are also in need of a taanka and want to be free from this water problem. I have shared my story with you and you have changed my life. Please help other women. Thank you."
Now that Gavra has a water source in her home, she gained back the ten hours she used to spend walking for water every day. She's sleeping longer, her appetite has returned, and she has time for family and community. She now appears proud, uplifted, even validated. Before the taanka she only had one cow, and now she's able to care for three. She produces enough ghee (a type of clarified butter commonly used for cooking in India) to feed her children and sells the excess to supplement her income. With the income she now earns from cooking at the government school, selling ghee, and working in nearby agricultural fields, Gavra and her husband are able to build themselves a better house, build better lives for their children, and make their community stronger.