Tribal Gujarat

With our work in India I come across many different organizations making a difference, usually in small ways, an incremental change here and another one there, before you know it, you look back and see the impact that has been done.  Often this work is unheralded by others and yet, it continues as in the case of one of my partners Ashirwad Kendra Trust.

Me, Dawna and Azariah, taking a break on the way to the Dangs District of Gujarat

Quietly, they have involved themselves in meeting the needs of many tribal villages within the mountains of Gujarat through their mobile medical unit, bore well program, hostel for young girls and a English Medium school for little ones.  Their work has been going on for over 11 years now and has grown in size and scope since their beginning in 2007.  Just recently they decided to move forward in building a permanent multi use classroom on their site using some new building materials that have reduced the cost of traditional construction by about 20%.  I call attention to their work with the tribals because in talking with them you wouldn’t even know the impact or the extent of their work, which is literally a few people who have committed their lives to service, regardless of the cost, in order to touch lives and make a difference in an area which many don’t venture to because it’s far away with no fanfare.

As with most small NGO’s (non-government organizations) resources are tight and often scarce so you pray a lot and talk to as many folks as you can sharing your mission and vision hoping for some support.  This is the reality for Ashirwad Kendra Trust (ASK) and is one reason I wanted to highlight them and call attention to their work.  To learn more of what they are involved in visit their website: https://www.asktrust.org/

If you would like to be involved in their work, then the best thing you can do is give.  Wells for Life will handle any financial gifts intended for ASK and not take a fee, we’ll just collect, receipt, and forward the gift so that they can receive maximum benefit of that gift.

I have complete trust in their work and their vision to make a difference in tribal Gujarat and ask that you join them in their efforts to touch lives through medicine and education.

Classroom Construction
Roof is on

a Hug

You never know what you’re going to get when you travel in the winter; flight delays and cancellations, missed connections or any number of things making travel stressful, but nothing is better than hearing your name called over the loudspeaker asking you to hurry and board your flight.  This was the case at DFW and I believe I walked a little slower just so I could hear the repeated calls for “Mr. Michael Viser please proceed to gate 41 for your London Heathrow flight.”   Fast forward 12 days, I’m now in the London Heathrow airport flagging down a Concierge cart to take me to my gate so I don’t miss my flight back to DFW; coming and going I was flying loose and on the edge.

I’ve been active in India for 18 years now and have brought water to over 900 places and this year I’ve experienced something that I’ve never experienced before and that was the way I was thanked.

My little thankful friend

In the 1st instance, the dedication was over and people were returning to the inside of their church when this little girl, who was probably 5 turned and ran towards me. When she reached me she wrapped her arms around my legs, looked up, smiled really big, and in her native tongue said “Thank You.”  I stood there in disbelief, looked around to see if anyone had captured this moment on camera, and saw no one paying attention. I realized this was just a special moment for me, a gift from above letting me know that my work is not in vain but always under His watchful eye.

The 2nd instance happened in another village. There were probably 50 people gathered around the handpump, all excited for us to open the project, and after sharing about the donor and their gift, I cut the ribbon and pumped till water began to flow. It was great fun and after all the laughter had died down and we began to make our way to the car, one of the women made a bee line for me and with a big smile wrapped her arms around me in a hug I haven’t gotten since, well, I can’t remember when. After what seemed like a long time, she let go and then grabbed my hand. We walked hand in hand to the car which took a few minutes and then once in, I looked around and the road was now lined, on both sides, with women from the village; all to thank us for the gift of water.

I couldn’t help but think of the uniqueness and the demonstration of gratitude that was put on display in that village, but then the thought came, “why not?”

Not many return to say thanks but when they do; it’s something special.

I’m often asked “Does water really matter?”  The answer is a resounding “yes,” just try going without it for a day or two and see how you end up.  Better yet, go find a bucket and then force yourself to fill that bucket with water for all your needs that day, regardless of whether its drinking, bathing, cooking or washing, and make sure you are using a tap from outside. That’s the reality for millions and millions of people in rural India, but they don’t have the luxury of just walking a few feet outside and turning on a reliable tap; that’s your luxury.

Their reality is a much longer walk and possibly a tap which may or may not yield water or if they access a hand pump, it might take a little time of pumping before the water begins to flow.

So yes, access to clean water matters, which is why financial support for our work is so necessary.

Making an impact doesn’t take more than a gift to a reliable source and that source would be me. The majority of what you give goes into bringing water to needy places in rural India.

It just takes your giving to make a difference. https://wellsforlife.org/donate/

Final 2018 trip is a just a few weeks away

Yes, it’s true I just returned from a trip but that was to participate in a Leadership seminar and to open water projects. Thankfully all went wonderfully and was happy to be home in time for the trick or treaters and raiding my sons stash of candy.

As I mentioned, in a few weeks I’ll be returning to India, this time to open 8 projects in Gujarat and Maharashtra. When those are completed I’ll fly to Vijayawada and visit a couple of other projects which were completed back in August but I haven’t seen yet then I’ll head over to Chennai and travel to some property where a children’s home is to be constructed and where we’ve just brought water so they can get started with the actual construction of buildings.

It’s a full trip for me, a lot packed into the 9 days and I’m already looking ahead into 2019 and my upcoming travel schedule.

Looking ahead into 2019, I’m scheduled to be back in India the 3rd week of January and open projects in West Bengal and Odisha. In February the plan is to travel to Andhra Pradesh and spend time at New Life Children’s Home and open projects within that area as well as do some video work retelling the Wells for Life story. In April I’m doing something I swore I would never do and that’s travel to India as it’s really, really hot then but I’m doing it because some good friends have asked me to join them and it’s a unique opportunity for me to give them a glimpse of the real India, what normal life is like for millions of rural folk living without a constant electricity flow (to power lights, fans and my favorite – AC) or more necessary, clean water. I’ll be praying for abnormally cool temperatures.

In the interim, this is the Holiday Season when people start thinking about gift giving, cooking, travel and time off, as well as Black Friday shopping, so when you’re engaged in all of that and you get thirsty and go for that water bottle, coffee, tea or soda; remember me and Wells for Life.

It’s your gift giving that makes it possible for Wells for Life to carry out its mission of bringing clean, safe water to rural India, so thank you for your support and faithful giving this year and through the years.

Almost 850 places have access to clean water because of you, which is an amazing number and this doesn’t even touch the programs which aren’t water related that we have been involved in, so great job in making a difference and helping me change lives.

All your giving to Wells for Life is tax deductible and if you haven’t considered giving through your company’s matching gift program, look into it as essentially that’s free money out there waiting to be invested in a good cause and I can’t think of a better one than ours. (If Wells for Life isn’t on your company’s give list, contact me for the necessary information to get us added.)

Here’s a clip of a video from a project I opened this summer for some friends.

Blessings to you.

Summer Travels

i returned from India last month having opened 10 water projects in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.  During this trip I invited my daughter to join me so she could experience in a small way what I experience when I’m gone so many times throughout the year. The journey at times was arduous but in the end I trust rewarding for both of us, how else can you look at traveling with a teenager who isn’t used to the rigorous schedule of India?  She was a trooper though and despite not being with me for the entire trip, I did let her hang out at a children’s home for almost a week, I know India has a place in her heart.

Next week I pack my bags and head back to India for 11 or 12 days and will be opening projects in Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Karnataka.  I’m packing in a lot for such a short time but 11 places are receiving water and I’ll be scouting out a project for a friend who just purchased some property and is starting a children’s home near Chennai.

Aside from this work, I’m already looking forward to the fall and lining up projects in Gujarat and Maharahjatra and possibly back in Odisha, so a busy time and a time for the windows of heaven to open and funding for all this work to fall down!!

One of the projects in Gujarat I’m excited to visit and fund is for a small school of tribal kids. They look like the cutest kids ever and the water is going to help strengthen their efforts as they do the best they can at providing an education for these little youngsters.

 

Kerala, the southernmost state in India has been in the news recently because of all the rain and flooding.  The pictures coming out of Kerala are tragic and many blame God for the increased rains, unfortunately this is misplaced blame as God doesn’t send destruction on people and if you don’t believe then just read about Jesus and what he says about God’s viewpoint towards people.

Wells for Life doesn’t have any operations or partners at this point in Kerala so we are not involved in any efforts of relief for those caught up in the flooding, nor are any of our indigenous partners.  If you are reading this post and want to be involved financially in Kerala and the relief efforts then message me and I’ll route you to places where your money will be wisely spent.  If you want to read a bit about what has happened and see some photos, here’s an article that I found interesting – https://thewire.in/environment/debunked-eight-malicious-myths-about-the-kerala-floods

As always, our work is based upon gifts from everyday people like yourself so no matter the size of gift, we’ll make good use of it. More projects need funding, more people need clean water!

Niti Aayog report

In mid June the Niti Aayog report was published highlighting the water crisis that is now taking place in India.  The unique thing about this report is that it’s the first of its kind and took 2 years to complete.  It had support from both the public and private sector which was remarkable and resultantly provides one of the clearest pictures of where India is at today in regards to water.

I found the report insightful and despite the fact that it is alarming there was a hint of optimism especially if the report gains political traction on the local, state and national level.

Here are some of the reports highlights which should give you a glimpse into the realities that India now faces with clean water.  After reading these if you want to look at the entire report you can click on this link – http://www.niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/2018-05-18-Water-Index-Report_vS8-compressed.pdf

  • India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. Already, more than 600 million people13 are facing acute water shortages. Critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates.
  • Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers (~53% of agriculture in India is rainfed17). When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year18. Interstate disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance19.
  • More worryingly, the low performers on the Water Index are home to ~50% of the country’s population, thereby highlighting the significant water risk faced by the country. The low performers are, worryingly, comprised of the populous northern states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, and others, and are home to over 600 million people36. The poor performance of these states on the Index highlights a significant water management risk for the country going forward. Further, these states also account for 20-30% of India’s agricultural output37. Given the combination of rapidly declining groundwater levels and limited policy action (as indicated by the low Index score), this is also likely to be a significant food security risk for the country going forward.
  • These results highlight the growing national crisis of groundwater—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining in level due to extraction rates exceeding recharge rates and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting ~100 million people42. This crisis is further driven by a poorly defined legal framework for groundwater that rests ownership with landowners and leads to unchecked extraction. This crisis is most acute in the Indian agriculture sector, where groundwater accounts for 63% of all irrigation water43.

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13Source: World Resource Institute

14 Baseline water stress measures total annual water withdrawals (municipal, industrial, and agricultural) expressed as a percent of the total annual available flow for 2010. Higher values indicate more competition among users.

15Source: WRI Aqueduct; https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/6-3-crore-indians-do-not-have-access-to-clean-drinking-water/storydWIEyP962FnM8Mturbc52N.html; https://en.reset.org/blog/water-borne-diseases-india

16Source: Census 2011

17Source: State of Indian Agriculture, 2015-16

18Source: WHO Global Health Observatory

19Source: ClearIAS

36Source: 2011 Census of India

37Source: Planning Commission Databook 2014; India Energy Statistics 2015

42 Source: WRI; World Bank (Hindustan Times, The Hindu)

43Source: FAO AQUASTAT database

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April 2018 trip

3 weeks ago I returned from my 2nd trip to India this year and had the chance to see four recently completed projects with this being one of them.  It amazes me to see the simplicity of life that so many people live in rural India and how powerful access to water becomes; for this Gypsy community the water on the newly acquired land will ultimately bring homes.

I call that change, positive change which came because someone believed in what I was doing and they gave money; money which brought clean water and for this community, a chance at a better life.

Tent living no more!

2017 Results in January 2018

Wrapping up January and I think I’m still trying to figure out where December went.  This time of year is normally busy for me with all my travels to India which seems to be nonstop starting in September however this past year I cut out December and January’s trip so I won’t see the Selfie capital of the world till late February.  I only bring up the selfie thing because in the news today was a story of an Indian guy in Hyderabad taking a selfie next to the train tracks with an oncoming train and sure enough, he was hit, but lucky for him, wasn’t killed.  A head scratcher for sure, I guess anything for that perfect selfie.  Speaking of selfie, here’s one of me from my trip this past November. LOL.

 Highlights from 2017 –

  • 59 water projects funded
  • Annual support for leper community
  • Annual support for Lydia’s Girl’s Hostel including bunk beds and Christmas gifts
  • Solar Panel and paint for a Children’s Home of 235
  • Emergency Water Camps
  • Electrical Grid panel repair and school bus funding for primary school
  • Startup costs for 2 medical clinics

2018 marks also a rise in what I am now asking people to contribute for our water projects.  For more than a decade we were able to provide hand pump projects for $2000 and at this price we were afforded the ability to put some money aside into an escrow account to address future maintenance on our projects.  This past year, one of the items our Board of Directors tackled was a Director’s salary both for the present and for the future as part of a succession plan for that time when I need to step aside.  It’s somewhat strange to think of leaving something you started so long ago, something you have poured your life and soul into but that’s reality, at some point I will need to fade away and allow someone younger to pick up where I left off and take Wells for Life to places I could only have imagined.

I honestly don’t have any idea when my time will come but they say it’s never too early to prepare so, we’ve begun those steps which meant a salary for me which in turn means a new “ask” for our projects.  Our new number is $2500; still a reasonable and affordable number for clean water especially when you look at what we do, where we do it and the peace of mind that I’ll be there cutting the ribbon and drawing the water.  Proof positive that your donation is making a difference in rural India.

I leave with some photos of those whose lives were touched this past year by your generosity! 

 

November 2017 Trip

This past November I traveled to Trichy to visit our DPWA partners, Dhana and his son Prasanna, and because of their work, 11 new projects were opened many of them schools along with a home for the physically and mentally challenged.  It had been a little over a year since I was there last and it was good to be back in familiar surroundings opening new projects and seeing the impact being made in the area with clean water. 

This particular trip was really short, 5 days in fact.  I missed a day on the front end due to a delayed flight out of Kansas City which caused a missed connection in Chicago, but once I reached India everything went smoothly. Getting in the country took a bit of time but once the immigration fellows realized I wasn’t a threat my passport was stamped and I was granted entry.

So what’s next?  

I’m hoping to take a break actually and not travel in January.  We’ll see if that holds up.  I’ve traveled 6 times this year and last so taking a break might not be a bad idea.  I do have a ticket for late February/early March and plan on opening 6 projects in NW India and maybe some more in other areas, just not sure at this point as these decisions are based upon the level of our year-end giving.

When it comes to year-end giving, we, like all the other non-profits rely on those gifts to carry out our programs.  What set’s us a part from many of them is the fact that most of our contributions are used on programs, like bringing clean water and making an impact in the lives of men, women and children like you see here in this post.  This year we have brought water to over 50 places and I’m hoping we’re not done.

As you consider your end of year giving, take that next step and give, go ahead, make a difference and stand with me in bringing positive change to rural places in India.

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!!

October 2017

In a few weeks I’ll be back in India opening 10 new projects, this time in Tamil Nadu, which will bring our work to 51 fresh water projects this year.

Demand along with desire remains high throughout rural India for water projects especially in underserved areas where people have no access to water in their homes. Reportedly these 10 new places were of great need and now with the trip set I have learned an even greater need exists in some new communities so shifting of resources has taken place. Why do I share this? Transparency mainly and to highlight the fact that plans change, even the best laid ones, especially when working with other cultures and contexts. As a result, one must remain flexible, understanding and open minded when changes like this crop up.

Bottom line though for me is that people are served but further investigation is needed to understand why the change and is it the best course of action for the indigenous partner for whom we work through and for whom responsibility rests, or do we disregard the desires of the partner and just focus on the community and what it is they want or need?

I wish there was a quick and easy answer but honestly more work and thought needs to be done with all involved but in short, preference towards sustainability should be considered along with who derives the most benefit with the aim of serving the “least of these” first.

Time will tell how this all shakes out and I’m trusting in the fact that our partners, who have been serving the poor for over 20 years in their District, know better than I what’s best in their context and community and as such will share with me the steps they took to reach the decisions they made.

Working in India always has its challenges yet not without a lot of rewards, so even in this situation I’m looking forward to the payoff; changed lives because of clean water.

July 2017

Last week I returned from another successful trip to India. In this trip we dedicated 7 water projects within Andhra Pradesh and culminated the trip with a quick visit to the Taj Mahal. I had forgotten how hot things were in July but no hotter than Kansas I guess except Kansas doesn’t have the humidity of India. I was averaging 3 bucket showers a day along with several shirts; I was reminded of what life was like when I first lived in Dallas over the summer. Walk outside and instantly you start dripping, well same thing in India. Thankful for the air conditioner for sure.

Each of the communities visited were different, some felt cold and hard and others festive and happy, yet despite the feeling at the beginning, usually by the time water was coming from the pump smiles were being shared all the way around.

One of the first project dedications I did was hampered by a drunk fellow. He kept coming in saying things and seeking to disrupt the meeting. Finally I asked “what does he want?” only to hear “these ladies are lying and you shouldn’t listen to anything they say”. What to do with that? Back and forth he came and went, finally I let him stand next to me, listened to him, shook his hand at which point another argument ensued and he was forcibly removed. At that point I exited and made my way to the car, as I looked back I saw a lady push him down at which point I didn’t want to see or know more, I just felt sorry for him at that point.

As we drove away, I was reflecting about what had happened and peered down a side road and saw a face of a young woman which looked somewhat familiar but way out in the middle of nowhere? I inquired to Raja, my project partner, he lit up when he saw her because he knew her, and she was a 10th class girl that used to stay at New Life Children’s Home. We stopped the car and I rolled down the window to be greeted with a Viser how are you? A mini reunion followed, a welcome respite from what took place just 10 minutes earlier. When we were about to go the women from the village had gathered around the car and asked that we allow them to say just 1 thing, I said sure, no problem, they apologized for the behavior of the drunk guy and explained the back story. I thanked them for coming back and assured them I wasn’t upset, just glad that things were now under control.

The highlight though for me that day was seeing Swarna and knowing that she has a job in Hyderabad and is doing well; a blessing for sure.

Many more things I could share about this most recent trip but I’ll save the space for another time, I will say though that I was joined by some great friends, one of which taught my son twice during elementary school and after hearing about my work expressed a desire to join me one day in India. 6 years later that dream of hers came true and India forever touched her and changed her, hopefully I’ll have her back working alongside me in villages making an impact with clean water or education; only God knows.