W4W Brings Together Surf Community in Southern India

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I arrived with one filter – I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it – I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to assemble it correctly.  All I knew was that I was going to India and I would be working at a surf and yoga retreat called Soul and Surf (S&S) and during my time there, I wanted to help address clean water issues (even if it was in a small way).

I heard about Waves For Water (W4W) a few years ago when a friend of a friend was fundraising to buy filters to bring on a surf trip to Nicaragua.  I talked to her about her W4W experience and she encouraged me to take on a project of my own.  Since then it had been in the back of my mind that on my next surf safari I wanted to be a W4W Clean Water Courier (CWC).

However, when I was planning my surf trip to India, W4W popped into my head only two weeks before I was leaving, so I put up my CWC page and scrambled to try to raise some funds.  Since it was so last minute, I only raised enough to buy one filter, but I figured I could start small and see where it would lead.

After getting settled in at S&S, I started to ask around about potential places to install the filter and I found out that the school right next door to S&S didn’t have clean water for the students to drink.  Instead, they brought one bottle of water from home that was supposed to last them through the whole day in an extremely hot and humid climate.

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S&S is situated on beautiful cliffs overlooking the ocean in the small coastal town of Varkala, in the state of Kerala, India.  Most of the water in this area comes from wells or a government water system.  Although the water quality is unknown, there is a high potential for bacterial contamination and transmission of waterborne illness in this developing area. Those that have money in Varkala either buy bottled water or install their own filter systems (although the vast majority of people cannot afford clean water).

Coordinating the installation of the water filter at the school next door took a little more effort than I thought (it was not as simple as just assembling the filter and dropping it off for the students to use).  As I mention, when I first received the filter, I wasn’t even quite sure how to set it up.  But as it turned out, setting up the filter was the easy part because the directions and videos on the W4W website made it so easy, anyone can do it.  The most effort went into getting permission from the principal, redoing the piping and then coordinating a time that we could install the filter and show the kids and teachers how to use it.

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The day we installed the filter at the school and showed the kids how to use it, everyone – students, teachers, and S&S staff – was stoked about the project.  At first, it was mass chaos with the kids all wanting to fill up their water bottles.  Then one student took charge and got everyone into a line to fill their bottles one by one.  They were quite excited, to say the least.  After we left the school, the S&S staff started talking about how great it was to do something positive for the school next door and new ideas started circulating about other ways we could connect with the school and local community.

After a few weeks, we went to check with the principal to see if the filter was working properly and being used.  She reported back that it was great and she then asked if we could install another one in a nearby school where she was also the principal.

We started brainstorming ideas on how to raise money for more filters. Then one of the S&S surf instructors said that he wanted to donate the money to buy 10 filters and get more S&S staff, as well as the local surf club, involved in the project.

So, to kick off the new year, the Soul and Surf staff and the Varkala Pirates Surf Club spent about a month setting 10 filters at various spots in the community.  Water filter locations included three schools, a Hindu temple, the community where S&S chechies (local women staff) live and the fishing village at Edava where we always surf.  These filters will provide clean drinking water for 1,000 people for up to 5 years.  Kids can fill up their water bottles throughout the school day.  The fishermen can fill up their water barrels to take with them out to sea.  The chechies will have clean drinking water for their families.

There were many different people that were involved with bringing these filters to people in need.  Many of the S&S staff, as well the local guys from the surf team, were involved with setting up the filters; asking around within the community to see where we should install the filters, and teaching people how to use the filters once they were installed.  Also, the owner of S&S, Ed Templeton, the general manager of S&S India, Rafael Kably and even pro surfer, Sam Bleakley, came to deliver the fillers to the local schools.

One water filter turned into 11 and one person turned into many.  It’s called Waves for Water because the act of providing one filter to a community in need can build energy, like a wave, and bring people together to work toward achieving a greater collective impact.

While these filters aren’t a perfect solution, it’s definitely a start.  Hopefully, someday India will be able to provide clean water for everyone across the country.  But these water filters will make a difference for some of the people in the Varkala community.  And hopefully, those involved in this project will take on a new CWC project on their next surf safari.

This is part of my story and I encourage others to make W4W a part of their story as well.

- Annie Lovell

** Big thank you to Nick for your generous donation, to Soul and Surf for supporting the project and special thanks to CJ for making this all possible.

Photo Credit – Down the Line Photography

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