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Kevin Milla, Water Issues in Rajasthan

Over Spring Break, I spent 12 days examining the implementation of defluoridation technology and various sanitation campaigns in rural Rajasthan, India. I am one of the managers of this Learning in Community (LINC) project. It is run through the University of Illinois College of Engineering. Our host university is one of the top engineering schools in India: Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) Jaipur. The class back on our home campus is ENG 315, sections IP1 and IP2. The trip team is assembled of the project managers and four students from both sections. This trip counted as a one-credit course, ENG 398 LINC International Service Learning Trip.

This trip is the most valuable component of our project. Prior to landing in India, we were limited to Skype video calls with Dr. A.B. Gupta, professor of Civil Engineering, at MNIT Jaipur. Our project revolves around the interaction between several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and how they focus on issues that currently affect Rajasthan.

We worked with NGO Health Care Sansthan, who implements defluoridation units in villages and schools that report fluoride levels in their water greater than 1.5 mg/L. Fluorosis is the disease that results from drinking over-fluoridated water. Visible defects include dental fluorosis, which is the yellowing and rotting of teeth; and skeletal fluorosis, which covers structural problems with the patient’s bones and joint pain. Several focus groups were run in villages and schools to measure the effectiveness of the defluoridation unit and various government approved posters, murals, and activities that are around the area.

The second component of our trip involved examining the toilet use and frequency of hand washing in caste and tribal villages in Rajasthan. UNICEF and the NGO, FINISH Society collaborated with us in three different villages. There was a control village, a mild intervention village, and a successful intervention village. UNICEF and FINISH have had varying levels of involvement in these villages and we conducted focus groups and took human-interest stories to see how their interventions have affected the respective villages. The Swachh Bharat Mission is a national campaign by the Government of India with aspects looking to eradicate open defecation and advocate hand washing. We compiled this data in order to determine what parts of UNICEF and FINISH’s efforts have worked so far.

Even before this trip, I devoted a large amount of my time to this project because I truly believe that this is a real-world issue that combines multidisciplinary consultations in order to properly develop this part of the world. The fact that India has not met goals set in the Millennium Development Goals, 15 years after the fact, forces you to think: “Are we using our resources wisely?” or “What is our research not telling us?” Being a Natural Resources and Environmental Science major in the College of ACES, in the Global Change and Landscape Dynamics concentration, international development is one of the avenues I hope to dive into during my time here at Illinois as well as after graduation.

My photo features myself in the center along with one of the students in the LINC class and our translator, an Environmental Engineering graduate student from MNIT Jaipur. This was taken in Rangila village, the control area for our Sanitation studies with the elderly demographic. The majority of our trip was our team conducting focus groups within various demographics and it involved two Illinois students and our translator facilitating discussion. Some of the difficulties of this system definitely come from the language barrier. Having our MNIT colleague tell us their responses in English from Hindi guarantees words lost in translation. A lot of questions were reworked in order to get a proper Hindi translation. Nonetheless, my experience with focus groups and the villagers was very positive and they provided a clearer image of how sanitary toilets and hand washing practices have been implemented in their village.

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