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Thursday, January 10, 2008

US students toil to mitigate water woes in rural India

A 13-year-old student of Indian origin in the US and his American friends washed cars, sold pizzas and cakes, and held sports tournaments to raise money for a tube well in a water-starved village in India.

Shocked by the story of water shortage in Paras village and its environs in Akola district that Rujul related to them, a group of 15 American boys and girls decided to rise to the occasion.

The eight grade students of Princeton Day School, New Jersey, also went from home to home seeking donations - for a group of people no one but Rujul had seen in distant Maharashtra state.

On a visit to Nagpur, Rujul explained what drove him to do what he accomplished with the help of his friends.

Scenes of women carrying heavy pots of water on their heads from long distances are a common image depicting water woes in rural India. For Rujul, who was visiting Paras village, it was an astounding sight.

It was in Paras, nearly 250 km from Nagpur, where his father was born and educated up to middle school. Rujul asked himself whether there wasn't anything he could do to mitigate the hardship of women, some of whom were older than his mother. That was in 2006.

He retuned to the village this year with an answer backed by his 15 classmates - fund raised through voluntary labour to dig a tube-well on its outskirts.

'In the US, water is taken for granted. You turn on the faucet and get a continuous flow of water. Coming from there, I was really surprised to see the women's arduous trek. I could not imagine what living in such circumstances could be like', Rujul told IANS here.

'We thought digging a tube-well in the village that would cost about $900 would be the best solution and decided to raise funds for our mission,' he said.

The group of friends which Rujul and his friend Kevin Petrovic formed began fundraising at the school.

'We held car washes, sold pizza and cakes and held sports tournaments; we also peddled from house to house seeking donations', Rujul told IANS.

The funds were raised in no time and the work for the tube-well has begun. Rujul and his friends now plan to help dig more such wells in the area.

'I am planning to bring at least six members of our club this July to see the desperate situation. Though they are convinced about it, seeing is believing,' he said.

The good Samaritans have set up a Drinking Water for the Developing World Club and obtained a tax-exempt non-profit organisation certificate.

'We created a website for Drinking Water for India, Inc., our charity at,' he said.

Rujul's father Anil Zaparde, an Indian software developer in Princeton, and his wife Rashmi bring their children to India every year so that they see the people here and know the culture in which their parents were born and brought up.

'Last year, Rujul was equally astonished to see as many as 300 children packed in just two small rooms in the Urdu school in Paras,' Anil told IANS. 'And this year he was very delighted to see two more rooms constructed there from a small donation I made.'

'I realized the stark difference between a 13-year-old living in the US and in Paras,' Rujul remarked feelingly while talking about the village school. Equally touching for the sensitive lad was his father's generous donation for the renovation of the Shiva temple in Paras where Anil remembers going as a child.

'Some people here thought it odd that we, despite being Hindus, donated money to an Urdu school meant for Muslims students,' Anil said.

Anil and parents of the other children decided to encourage them to carry out the tube-well mission though anyone of them could have easily donated the entire money.

'We wanted to give the children the satisfaction of doing something on their own,' Anil said.

Impressed by the children's zeal, many individuals, besides a US charity Home Depot, have already approached them with offers for help, raising a hope that the initiative for creating a convenient water source for Paras, a village in Akola district, doesn't remain symbolic

(Shyam Pandharipande can be contacted at


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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