In her seminal book, The White Album, American writer Joan Didion said that “we tell stories in order to live.” Storytelling allows us to understand our histories, to escape the fears and stresses of everyday life; it helps us heal, and it illuminates difficult truths for all to see. Stories, when we’re given the chance to tell them, can also change the trajectory of our futures.
But for the marginalized, storytelling isn’t even an option––their voices often go unheard. WomenServe, an India-based NGO, is using the power of storytelling to empower brave women in India to bear witness to their existence. WomenServe takes Didion’s sentiment one step further: they tell their stories to improve our lives. We are eager to have them onboard at Faire, and to briefly share part of their still-unfolding story.
Recently, WomenServe helped tell the stories lived by the women of Rajasthan, India; how their entire existence has historically been devoted to finding water. In this particularly arid part of India, Rajasthani women spent every waking moment providing their villages and families with water. Because they had to (literally) trudge miles and miles each day for this precious resource, they couldn’t find other work capable of elevating the economic status of their households. As a result, any prospects for their children’s education simply disappeared.
After generations of women sacrificing their lives to hauling daily water, things have finally started to change. A simple concrete water storage structure––called a “taanka”––that collects rain water throughout the year has quite literally revolutionized life for women in the region. In Rajasthan, thanks to a partnership with the Revive Project, hundreds of taankas were built in recent years, serving numerous families.
For a woman named Gavra, the impact of the taanka in her village was huge.
Before the taanka was installed, she’d wake up every morning at 3 am to start collecting water. She’d walk six miles in the miserable heat with two pots––weighing in at about forty-five pounds––balanced on her head for the duration of the trek. She’d bring her children with her so they could help carry more water, and she’d have to keep a close eye on everyone’s water usage to make sure the family didn’t run out.
She worried about water constantly; it kept her from sleeping most nights. But with the introduction of the taanka, everything changed.
Gavra is growing crops now, so no one in her family has to go to bed hungry anymore. Now that she’s not spending all day getting water, she was able to get a job, and she and her husband were even able to build a new, larger house. Gavra’s children are now enrolled in school.
Needless to say, she’s happy for the first time in a long time.
Stabilizing water security in Rajasthan has exponentially improved the quality of life for its citizens, and telling their story illuminates the importance of water security––and how simple improvements can have such a residual positive effect. The stories WomenServe helps people tell bear witness to their felt experience of the every day, and show what happens when people have the tools they need to thrive.
We believe the stories WomenServe are telling can change the world, one family at a time.