Neelam Tiwiri is 19 years old, and lives in Agra village in the Bundelkhand region of India. Now that she has safe water and a toilet at home, she's been able to stay in school and study to become a teacher. Here's her story...

Neelam lives with her mother, father and two younger brothers in Agra. Before Just a Drop began work in her community, Neelam would have to spend between three to four hours each day collecting water from a dirty source, to cover all of her drinking, washing and bathing needs. Like everyone else in her community, Neelam practiced open defecation in a field close to her home. She often suffered from illness, and her home was often full of flies because of the close proximity to the open defecation site.

Neelam at home, Agra village, India

Just a Drop worked with Neelam's village in 2016 to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene education, thanks to support from Radisson Hotel Group. The project involved the construction of a drilled well and piped water system, which brought water to individual houses including Neelam's, the local school, and the Anganwadi (a rural mother and child centre providing basic healthcare). A water and sanitation committee, of which Neelam is a member, were trained in sanitation and hygiene practices. 

India is aiming to become open defecation free by 2019, and the government provides funding for latrines. However, although funds are available, many people don't know how to access and use them. As part of our projects in Bundelkhand, we provide individual latrines, water tanks, drinking water pots with a tap, soak-pits and compost pits for six families, together with family hygiene education. These six 'model families' then act as benchmarks for the rest of the community, and support them to obtain government funding for their own household latrines. Neelam's family was chosen as one of the six model families in Agra village.

(l-r) Neelam's drinking water pot with tap; visiting Neelam at home; the family's latrine

We caught up with Neelam and her best friend Sandhya to see how life has changed...

On a hot, sunny day in October 2018 we caught up with Neelam and her best friend Sandhya, 20, (pictured, left) over a cup of chai at Neelam's home. Both young women are cheerful, outgoing and positive about their futures.

Neelam talked to us about how life has changed now that she has water and a toilet at home. 

She is 'in good condition' and everyone in her family is using the toilet. Now that the villagers are no longer using the field next to her home for open defecation, there aren't as many flies and her health has improved.

Now that I have water and a toilet at home, I am in good condition and the head pain from collecting water is much less. I am happy.

Now that she is healthier, and with more time available, Neelam has been able to continue her studies at a secondary school outside of the village at Bijawar, which is 12km away. She wants to become a home science teacher. Sandhya tells us she is studying for a BSc in Maths. 

Neelam and Sandhya compared the time they previously spent collecting water, to how much time they spend now. They realised that ‘having water at home saves three or four hours a day – time which we use to clean the house, cook food and it's time that can be used for study!’

Neelam now has more time for her hobbies and showed us the many items on the shelves in her home that she'd made, explaining that in her spare time she ‘enjoys making crafts’.

Life for both young women has been transformed with access to safe water and sanitation, and they can look forward to much brighter futures.

(l-r) Neelam at home with the craft items she's made on the shelf behind her; Neelam's brothers playing outside with friends