Soul&Surf India is situated on beautiful cliffs overlooking the Arabian Sea in the small coastal town of Varkala. This area is known to be one of the cleanest and most beautiful regions in India.
Words by Emma Brown | Photography by DTL Photography | 1st October ‘16
However, access to clean water is still a significant issue for many people in this region of India. Most of the water in this area comes from the government run water system but many people have wells that supply their water for drinking, bathing and cooking.
Although the quality of the water is unknown, there is a high potential for bacterial contamination and transmission of waterborne illness. Those that have money in Varkala either buy bottled water or install their own filter systems. However, the vast majority of people cannot afford these systems and therefore they do not have clean water.
Waves for Water is a non-profit out of California that distributes water purification systems around the world. These systems provide clean water for up to 100 people for 5 years. W4W’s “Clean Water Couriers” program is a “do it yourself distribution network” that empowers travellers to bring these small, water filters to communities that they visit and connect with locals to get the filters installed in areas where they are most needed.
Last year, Soul and Surf got involved in the W4W Clean Water Couriers program by supporting volunteers who fundraised and donated their own money to buy water filters to distribute to the Varkala community.
S&S volunteers began with one water filter. The first water filter installation was at the school right next door to S&S. The school didn't have clean water for the students to drink. Instead, each student brought one bottle of water from home which was supposed to last them through the whole day in a very hot and humid climate.
Coordinating the installation of the water filter at the school next door took a little more effort than we initially imagined (it was not as simple as just assembling the filter and dropping it off for the students to use). A group of volunteers from S&S worked on getting permission from the principal, redoing the piping and then coordinating a time that we could install the system and show the kids and teachers how to use it.
The day we installed the filter at the school and showed the kids how to use it, everyone - students, teachers, and S&S staff - was stoked about the project. At first it was mass chaos with the kids all wanting to fill up their water bottles. Then one student took charge and got everyone into a line to fill their bottles one by one. They were quite excited to say the least. After we left the school, the S&S staff started talking about how great it was to do something positive for the school next door and new ideas started circulating about other ways we could connect with the school and local community.
After a few weeks, we went to check with the principal to see if the filter was working properly and to see if it was actually being used. She told us that it was working well and she asked if we could install another one in a nearby school where she was also the principal.
We started brainstorming ideas on how to raise money for more filters and our head surf coach, Nick Kelly donated the money to buy 10 filters and get more S&S staff, as well as the local surf club, involved in the project.
So, in the beginning of 2016, the Soul and Surf staff and the Varkala Pirates Surf Club spent about a month setting 10 filters at various spots in the community. Water filter locations included three schools, a Hindu temple, the community where S&S chechies (local women staff) live and the fishing village at Edava where we always surf. These filters are providing clean drinking water for 1,000 people for at least the next five years. Kids can fill up their water bottles throughout the school day. The fishermen can fill up their water barrels to take with them out to sea. The chechies will have clean drinking water for their families.
There were many different people that were involved with bringing these filters to people in need. Many of the S&S staff, as well the local guys from the surf team, were involved with setting up the filters; asking around within the community to see where we should install the filters; and teaching people how to use the filters once they were installed.
It's called Waves for Water because the act of providing one filter to a community in need can build energy, like a wave, and bring people together to work toward achieving a greater collective impact.
While these filters aren't a perfect solution, it's definitely a start. Hopefully someday India will be able to provide clean water for everyone across the country. But these water filters will make a difference for some of the people in the Varkala community.