As part of a mass effort to bring clean drinking water to over 5,000 villages via Amrita’s Jivamritam initiative, 71 college students from 20 universities in Japan spent 10 days living and working in the Alappuzha district of Kerala. The goal was to install 36 water filtration systems that would benefit approximately 20,000 villagers. The Japanese students, along with 15 staff from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, worked on the project through the institution’s Live-in-Labs® program, which provides experiential learning opportunities for youth to understand ground level challenges faced by rural communities and develop sustainable solutions.

Students received training to fabricate and assemble water filtration systems which were designed according to the local needs of the people and, subsequently, installed the systems themselves in 36 locations spanning 11 panchayats (Ambalapuzha North, Punnapara South, Punnapara North, Purakkad, Aryad, Marrarikulam South, Ezhupunna, Thuravoor, Champakulam, Nedumudi, and Mannanchery). The installed systems will be handed over to the beneficiary committee and will be sustained for operation and maintenance through the participation of village beneficiaries.

According to WaterAid India, approximately 76 million people in the country lack access to clean drinking water and more than 60,000 children, especially under the age of 5 years, die each year from poor sanitation and diarrheal diseases caused by drinking contaminated water. Causes of water contamination also vary. High population density, chemical farming, overuse of fertilizers, the presence of minerals in the coastal beds, and run-off from factory waste provide limited access to clean drinking water. Other obstacles are distance and cost. Many villagers have to walk several kilometers to access clean water and in some villages, residents are forced to spend money to buy clean water.

Rao Hirata, a science and technology student from Ritsumeikan University said, “Making the filtration systems were a little difficult for me at first, but the Amrita staff taught me how to make them, and in the process, taught me how great a benefit these filters are for the villages that receive them. These systems will provide enough clean water for 400 families each. If we can help supply clean water, we can reduce the possibility of getting sick and allow so many people to live healthy lives. This knowledge allowed me to tackle the project with a sense of purpose. My time spent in India has become an unforgettable memory.”

Maki Saito, a developmental studies student from Toyo University and a 2nd-time participant of Amrita’s Live-in-Labs® program said, “Growing up in Japan, my family and I never faced the problem of not having water or even clean water. In fact, access to clean drinking water wasn’t really a problem for most of my neighbors and friends either, so I didn’t really think about it much. However, once I found out that many people who live in villages in India do not have this basic need, I felt I wanted to do something about that. How could I live here drinking clean water knowing that someone else, just like me living in India, doesn’t have that same right?”

The Japanese students unanimously agreed that their main motivation for participating in the program was the opportunity for field-based service. Nane Tahaku, an environmental engineering student from Ritsumeikan University, Japan, said, “I have taken many classes in my subject but I really wanted to do something in the field, make something with my own hands, making something for poor people. Water is something that everyone needs, especially clean drinking water. I am very happy that I was able to install a water filter that will now give clean water to everyone in the village.”

The Japanese students, from universities in the Osaka and Tokyo regions of Japan, also interacted with 140 Amrita students during a cultural program at Amrita’s Kochi campus. The entire program at the campus was presided over by Swami Purnamritananda Puri. After completing their work in the villages, all 71 students traveled to Bangalore to meet the Chancellor of Amrita, Sri Mata Amritanadamayi Devi, where they presented an energetic dance at the Brahmasthanam festival celebrations.

The Jivamritam water filtration system was conceptualized and designed by faculty members and students of Amrita. The Rs. 100 crore initiative to bring clean drinking water to rural India was launched by Honorable President of India, Sri. Ram Nath Kovind, at the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in Amritapuri, Kollam, Kerala, on October 8, 2017.

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