My name is Roswitha Davies. In the late summer of 2018, I visited Reaching the Unreached and travelled more widely into some lesser-known parts of South India. While I was there, I was fortunate enough to see a bore well being drilled at a primary school in the village of Sangareddykottai, which is situated in an area of Tamil Nadu that has suffered severe water shortages for some years. I am part of a group of supporters in Wales that raised money to pay for the well in Sangareddykottai, and in 2019 we fundraised again to pay for another well, this time in the village of Silukvarpatti. The diary extracts that follow start from my arrival at RTU, after spending some time in Pondicherry.

2 September 2019

I arrived in RTU yesterday afternoon after a 4-hour taxi  journey along one of Tamil Nadu‘s highways, at great speed! I was glad when we arrived safely! 

Now I am back in RTU in my ‘old’ guest bungalow and it truly feels like coming home. I was here exactly 12 months ago, and the same events will be happening this week as last year. Today was Ganesha’s Birthday, a public holiday for all India. The children made small clay sculptures of the elephant God which, as everywhere in India will be immersed in water, either a river or the sea, after 3 days.

Next Sunday, 8 September, is Mary’s birthday, which like last year will be celebrated in RTU and elsewhere in Christian areas by everybody, Christian, Hindu and Muslim.

Most importantly, tomorrow is the big day when the drilling of the bore well in Silukvarpatti, a village 45 minutes from RTU, is taking place. The school it will supply has been on the waiting list for a well for over a year. The drilling will have to be very deep, up to 900 feet (274 metres). The one in Sangareddykottai was only 600 feet deep (183 metres). They experts say it might take up to 9 hours! They will start the drilling when I and some staff arrive at 8.30 am. I will take a book and a picnic and pray that it will all go to plan! And hope that there will be some shade to sit in like last year. 

3 September 2019

The wonderful news is that yesterday, after 8 hours of continuous drilling, a good supply of water was reached, at a depth of 900 feet as predicted! It was a long day of waiting and praying and anxiously watching the drill going deeper, trying to close my ears from the noise. For most of the time I was sitting at a safe distance, but within view of the machine, trying to cover up from the white cloud of dust which was emerging from the bore hole.  There was no opportunity to open my book or eat my biscuits! Two RTU staff were with me all day and explained the progress and checked up on the work.

Finally, at 6pm the first grey water splashed up from the ground. There was great jubilation and some tears! And much relief, because it is never certain that the diviner‘s calculations are 100% correct. In the next few days, pipes, a pump and electricity will be installed. I hope to visit again next week for the official opening!

The school is a Catholic middle school for girls, with 233 pupils from class 1 to 8. The head teacher is a nice, very energetic religious sister. Some of the children in the school are Catholics, most others are Hindu, some Muslim.

The main problem for the school is the lack of water. It has not rained in this low lying area for 4 years! The Council only delivers water once every 15 days, which is never enough - the school needs 1,000 litres  a day. If they run out they have to buy water. The school struggles to pay for essential and repairs and maintenance so extra water is often paid for with donations made by the staff. The head teacher applied to RTU for a well a year ago, so she was overjoyed that their time had finally come! 

Thank you all for your support in making this well a reality. Without you it wouldn’t have been possible to give this school a secure future as far as their water supply is concerned. It is perhaps a small way to help people here to live with the consequences of climate change, which has been caused by us.

9 September 2019

I have had a few busy days in RTU - there is always something going on somewhere to which I am invited - but weekends tend to be quiet.

Last week Teachers' Day was celebrated across India. I was invited to this celebration last year, so I knew what to expect. About 1500  pupils from all four RTU schools packed into a hall to celebrate their teachers with singing, dancing and sweet cakes. There are always special guests who give a speech! This time there were three speeches in Tamil, one lasting one hour!  I am always amazed how the very young RTU children, from 5 years upwards, can sit quietly on the floor without fidgeting through these long meetings.

In the evening, with the same children, I attended the monthly mass in memory of Brother James. At the end I was asked to say something about my memories of him. It is very moving at the end to see big teenage boys kneeling for a short prayer at the grave of their ‘Thata’, their grandfather.

More holy events to come! Yesterday was ‘Mary’s Birthday’, which is celebrated with great gusto all over South India by Christian churches. Many Hindus and Muslims also join in. The whole day was spent making fantastic jasmin and rose decorations for the procession cart with the Mary statue on it, and with preparing the sweet ‘Pongal rice’ which is served at the end of the procession. This is my favourite Indian rice dish!

Today was a very special day for me.  I went back to the school in Sangareddykottai where the 'Wales Water' well was drilled last year. There was a great welcome for me with flowers, a shawl for me as the special guest, the juice of tender coconuts and lovely dance performances by the pupils.

Since last year, with the knowledge that they no longer have to worry about having enough water, the school has been completely transformed! It was lovely to see how all the buildings had been painted inside and out, new paving tiles laid in front of the entrance  and tree saplings planted to give more shade from the heat.

They have also built a water harvesting ‘ground’ near the well where any rain, should it arrive, will be gathered and piped into the well. 

This is a truly amazing school which shows what people can  achieve in a poor, drought stricken area when they are given a helping  hand at the start.  I felt very moved to meet these special teachers and the children again.

Now I am looking forward to the grand opening of the new well in Silukvarpatti tomorrow.

11 September 2019

Yesterday was the big day of the opening of the new well in St Joseph‘s Middle School for girls at Silukvarpatti. Like the well in Sangareddykottai, it has been paid for by money donated by family and friends in Wales.

Bringing the funds we have raised to RTU (a new well costs £ 2100) is the main reason for my visit and I am so happy and relieved that water was found (never a guarantee!), the well has been drilled and the school's 233 pupils will now have a regular supply of clean water.

Silukvarpatti village is very dry, situated in the plain and further away from the mountains that are the source of the water used by RTU. The rains were disappointing in this year's south-west monsoon season, which lasts from June to August, so all hopes now rest on the second north-east monsoon in October! Father Antony and I arrived in the school yesterday afternoon to officially open the well.

The electrics, pumps and pipes have been installed, so now the water flows directly into a large tank in front of the school. Like last year, it was very moving to open the tap for the first time! The well is called Freyja's Spring, (not ‘well’, because in Tamil that word suggests a big village well) in memory of a little child.

After the ceremony and celebrations, I spoke to the children and staff about the people who had contributed to paying for the well and read out the names of the many donors. I wanted the children to know that this was the effort of many people abroad, rather than my gift alone.

I also told them that I come from a country called ‘Wales’ - not to be confused with England! - where it rains a lot and where we have plenty of water! I gave the school a Welsh flag to remind them of us.

Two coconut saplings were planted to commemorate the  drilling of the well. In four years'  time I will have to come back and taste one of the first coconuts!  (I have just remembered  that my sister Lioba and I have to return to Gujarat in the north of India to taste a mango from a sapling which we ‘planted’ 5 years ago. Maybe next year?)

These last few days have been quite emotional for me, seeing the hope for a second well for a school in the area become a reality, thanks to the planning and hard work of the RTU water department, and returning to the lovely school where the 'Wales Water' well was built a year ago.

Now I am looking forward to a rest before my long journey back to Wales. I will bring home with me many treasured memories of my trip to India and especially all my friends at RTU.

13 September 2019

PS. Guess what? Last night the first big rain this season arrived with thunder and lightning. Everybody in the area is very happy!

I have also heard that the RTU water manager is very happy with the good yield of the new well. It can pump 1,000 litres of water into the tank in 15 minutes, the amount of water the school needs for one day! I am so relieved that it has all worked out well.

Footnote - RTU's foster mothers

Some years ago I conducted a survey of all the 60 foster mothers about their lives before they came to RTU. Most of them had endured very difficult lives, just like the children they are now caring for.

Many lived in poverty from childhood and left school early in order to work in the fields. Most were married off at a very young age, then came children, often abusive, alcoholic husbands, or husbands who died young due to the hard labour they were doing in order to feed the family.

These women were left with young children, vulnerable and without any means of earning a living. Through different routes they found their way to RTU, where they found a job and safety for their children.

Currently there is one foster mother for every seven children. Each 'family' is based in its own small house.

I have always felt that the stories of these women should be heard, so I asked them to tell me about their lives by taking part in my questionnaire. Their responses, many of which are truly heartbreaking, have now been translated from Tamil into English.

This summer I sat down and compiled the responses in the form of a small book which I called ‘Journeys to a Village’, a reference to an RTU Children‘s Village.  All the stories are anonymous or use assumed names, to protect the women's privacy.

My son Christian designed the layout of the book, and then had it printed. I am really proud of him!

Yesterday copies of the book were given to the managers of all four Children‘s Villages. Most women won‘t be able to read the English text, but they can browse through the book and look at the photos. I feel that I have kept my promise to make a small contribution to giving these brave, strong and beautiful women a chance to tell their stories.