If you think cooking dinner too difficult so you order takeout, consider yourself lucky. If you find yourself complaining about the size of your house or apartment, bite your tongue. When you feel yourself complaining about the monotony or challenges of your job, stop. If you think your life is tough, chances are, it is not. Today our eyes were opened…
Desolation is the word that best describes today’s excursion. We set out early in the morning on our way to the salt flats near the southern edge of the Little Kutch desert. Roughly three hours into the drive we found ourselves on an increasingly rough road leading into the desert. Soon the vegetation cleared and there was nothing but brown dirt as far as the eye could see. Making our way across the dirt we arrived at a small makeshift straw hut near a series of rectangular pools; here was a salt farm. We found it hard to believe that we’d actually find humans inhabiting this place. While they maintain their permanent residences in a nearby village, they spend up to 8 months each year living in the searing heat of the salt flats.
We toured the farm and learned about the difficult lives these people lead. The monsoon season strikes during the summer months, submerging the flats in up to eight feet of water before receding in the fall. The months of October through May are the salt harvesting months. Even though it’s no longer summer, the heat out on the flats is tangible. In order to produce their product the farmers must first dig wells over thirty feet deep, taking 3-4 days for each well. Many times, they’ll dig and will come up dry, wasting those days and starting over in another spot. When they find water, the salinity is four to six times greater than that of seawater. The water is then pumped and channeled into a series of evaporative pools where it is tended to on a daily basis until crystalized. Assuming the quality is sufficient it is then harvested.
There is little opportunity for these people. Personal cash flow is extremely seasonal, as well as volatile, and farmers can easily find themselves held at the mercy of moneylenders. Their children do not have the opportunity to attend school as educational facilitates are located too far away and the parents don’t have the resources to transport them on a daily basis. SEWA is attempting to remedy some of these problems by providing access to non-predatory credit as well as providing access to basic health care. Unfortunately they only have the capital to lend to 60 of the 15,000 salt farming members.
Returning to the focus of our project we took a look within the family’s small hut. As was expected, the cooking apparatus resembled the three-stone stove we’ve seen so many other places. The family stated that they burn roughly 80 kg’s of wood each week, which is consistent with data we’ve gathered elsewhere. Here however, the wife must travel 1.5-2.0 km on foot, twice a week, in order to reach a source of firewood. This source is steadily becoming less reliable. She must then make the trip home carrying 40 kg’s of wood ON her head. One thing is clear; these people live very difficult lives and their efforts go under-rewarded. If something so simple as a solar light or an efficient cook stove can make a real impact on their ability to live a better life, we can only hope that our efforts with SEWA can help facilitate this.