A Scarcity of Abundance

My father, Bhagwati Prasad Agrawal, grew up in the dry, scorching village of Chappoli, a four-hour trip by car, on camel, and in Kurta (light tunics) from Jaipur in Rajasthan, the driest state in India. It rains approximately 45–60 days in the year there, and water, like everything else, is scarce. Like any other eight-year-old, I would roll my eyes when hearing the “When I was your age, I…” stories.  As I’d squirm from restlessness, my father would simply smile, finding great comfort in knowing that my dispassion stemmed from blissful ignorance.

I’d never know my father’s life as an eight-year-old having to choose between going to school or carrying water for nearly half a mile in 112 degrees in a clay pot that, when full, weighed 22 lbs.

But today, my father got my full, undivided attention.

As the winner of the Global Energy World Award, my father was recognized for his rainwater harvesting technology that has been implemented in six villages with 10,000 people in Rajasthan.

By 2013, Aakash Ganga, or “River from the Sky” will be implemented in 50 villages to harvest monsoon water, which means: clean water for 250,000 villagers; school for children; and income for families.

In spite of all that squirming, it turns out that I was listening. In fact, one could say that I have followed in my father’s dusty footsteps to devote my livelihood to helping those who are poor and vulnerable.  At Firelight, we work to identify grassroots organizations that mobilize communities to improve the lives of poor children and their families.

Many of our grantees have never received international funding. We provide them with  an initial small grant, which we increase over time. Firelight also provides technical assistance, assesses programmatic approach, and documents outcomes. Our aim is to support efforts of local organizations to create sustainable solutions to problems that plague communities in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

It turns out that a number of our grantees are addressing issues of access to clean water.

One of our grantee partners, New Hope Foundation, distributes water purifying tablets to 100 public schools each year among internally displaced families in Zimbabwe.  Without New Hope, 33 of the 100 schools would operate with inadequate amounts to no water.  The tablets cost $0.30* for a month’s supply for one child and can save him/ her from disease, dehydration and dropping out of school.

In addition, New Hope has built water tanks and taught villagers the importance of sanitation around the water tanks. These water tanks, and the education around water and sanitation, will enable 33 schools serving 39,600 children to provide adequate, clean and safe water.

By providing clean water, they minimize incidences of water borne diseases, prevent shortages during emergencies, and “establish conditions that allow a school community to live in good health, dignity, comfort, and security.

Like my father’s non-profit, Firelight is helping New Hope Foundation use a multi- pronged approach to support the critical needs of women and children.

To be honest, my father always had my attention, even when it was competing with ‘My Little Pony’.  On June 21st, I hope fathers everywhere are reminded that their squirmy daughters are listening even if just a bit here and there. After all, I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not been paying attention to my father’s journey.

But just like water, I often take his lessons and stories for granted, until the moment that I stop and realize how enormously important they each are.

This Father’s Day, please join me in celebrating our Dads who are often our unsung heroes. And to my father and Firelight: I thank you for your example of leadership with your life-saving work on the frontlines of poverty and disease.

*Figure courtesy of Population Services International Zimbabwe and Oxfam Intern.