Volunteer Polly is making a real difference in India

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MOST of us take having clean, running water and sanitation 24 hours a day for granted.

But for many people in India that is simply not the case.

Caring volunteer Polly Williamson, from Hartlepool, has just returned from the country where she helped to improve families’ sanitation and awareness of good hygiene.

Poor hygiene is such a problem in the country it is one of the biggest killers.

Polly, who is 22, and works at McDonald’s in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, spent 10 weeks in Southern India, on an International Citizens Service programme.

She had hoped to work in flood-hit Bangladesh and raised £800 in just six weeks to go on the volunteering programme, but her placement was cancelled due to political unrest.

Better hygiene and sanitation for the rest of their lives

Polly Williamson

Instead Polly worked with sustainable development charity Raleigh International in the rural village of Kannur which has a population of just over 3,000 people.

The next 10 weeks were spent finding out what the villagers needed, awareness raising sessions, community action days, peer to peer education, construction and advocacy.

A key part of the work focused on improving water, sanitation and hygiene.

Polly, who lives in the Grange Road area of town, explained: “We focused on the importance of hand washing, as in India sickness and diarrhoea is the second biggest killer of under fives, through awareness sessions at the school, visiting people’s houses and creating tippy taps and painting murals to remind the children of seven stages of hand washing.”

The village received running water for only half an hour a day between 6.30am and 7am every morning so Polly and the team took it in turns to be on water duty filling up water carriers.

“The shortage of water within the village was a huge problem especially as the health centre which had the facilities for women to give birth had no access to running water and therefore, was not used as frequently as it could be, “ she said.

“Being back home I still can’t get used to water being accessible 24 hours.”

The villagers were unable to use the local lake for washing as it was also used by some people as a toilet.

Polly and the volunteers solved that problem by painting a billboard showing what a lake should look like and what their’s did.

As a result of their research, three families who were most in need of a toilet were identified and provided for by building them.

Polly, who graduated from York St John University, said: “The families chosen were thrilled and worked long hours showing their dedication to wanting a toilet.

“For me, this was the highlight of the trip because Sumitra, aged three, and her little sister, aged six months old, have now got access to a toilet which means that they can go to the toilet at night, receive an education by staying in school and have better hygiene and sanitation for the rest of their lives.

“I would like to thank everyone who donated and made this possible.

“The deputy head teacher of the school was passionate about change in Kannur and in the near future I hope to raise money for the school which had 300 children.”

Volunteers and villagers with a tippy tap, a hands free handwashing facility

Volunteers and villagers with a tippy tap, a hands free handwashing facility

Polly’s trip to India was not the first time she has volunteered abroad having previously worked in Gambia in 2009 and South Korea in 2012.

She has also spoken to English Martyrs School and Sixth Form College, where she went, in the hope that other students will take part in the ICS programme.

“I would recommend young people of Hartlepool to take part in the International Citizens Service programme which is funded by the UK government and if anyone has any questions I am happy for them to get in touch with me,” she said.

Anyone wanting to learn more can email Polly at polly.williamson@hotmail.co.uk