Photo courtesy of Charity:Water

For this year’s Aperture Effect, I’m asking you to consider passing your hard-earned money to the people of India—giving them a taste of health and a taste of dignity.

From Charity:Water, here’s the story of Ram who helped change his village thru clean water.

Ram Chandra Behera grew up as a Dalit in Bahalpur village. He was the son of a fisherman and a member of the lowest class in society. His parents were both illiterate. For Dalits especially, education was not a priority. Ram dropped out of school in 4th grade and was married off at the age of 12.

But feeling dissatisfied with his village and wanting to see more of India, Ram left his young family behind to travel with a theatre group. He spent nine years working new jobs in different states. All the while, ignoring the responsibility of his family.

Eventually, embarrassed and wanting to make things right, he came back to Bahalpur. Expecting positive change, he was disappointed to find the same ignorance, illiteracy, discrimination and poor hygiene he had left behind.

But this time, Ram saw potential in his village, and he wanted to do something about it. He began meeting with a local organization he had heard about called Gram Vikas. The Gram Vikas program would bring clean water and sanitation into Bahalpur — under the condition that everyone agreed to construct their own bathing rooms and latrines and start treating each other as equals.

It took months of village meetings before Ram could get everyone to agree to the terms. But eventually, families built facilities, and Gram Vikas brought clean water directly to every household.

Once one of the least significant people in Bahalpur, Ram’s role on the Water Committee had turned him into one of the most respected people in the community. He continued to bring positive change, abolishing liquor stalls and gambling. Slowly, he led the community toward a total rebuilding.

The presence of clean water meant healthier, more productive families. Farmlands were rejuvenated. More kids began attending school. Instead of walking to collect water, women were able to utilize their free time to do new things, like making leaf fans. Many began earning their own income.

Over the course of the past 11 years, Bahalpur has transformed into a new community; one that takes pride in itself and welcomes every class of people. And thanks to the devotion of one Dalit man, it’s become an example for similar villages all over Orissa.

You can help bring clean water to villages like Bhagyalata’s and provide a better way of life for women.

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