Shaz Memon vows to change lives for 1 million girls in rural India

Shaz Memon (centre), founder of Wells on Wheels.

Shaz Memon is one of the most successful design entrepreneurs in the world being the CEO and founder of Digimax and Digimax Dental. Shaz is a multi-award winning entrepreneur, author and most recently winner of the Corporate Social Responsibility 2019 award of the year. He is also a new and rising philanthropist as the founder of a unique charity, Wells on Wheels which is transforming lives for thousands of girls and families in rural Indian villages with his Water Wheels.

What has amazed most in reading the reports of people in lockdown in recent weeks is how so many in the west are completely unaware of the hardships that most of the world’s population confront daily. From drought to thirst to a variety of public health dangers, it is only with COVID-19 that western people are coming to see a slice of what the rest of the world has had to deal with daily. One such issue that most never think about as we turn to fill up our kettle with water is basic plumbing.

It is estimated that between 790 million and 844 million people (roughly 11% of the world’s population) do not have clean water near their homes. And those without access to adequate sanitation is estimated to be 1.8 billion people (25% of the world’s population). This means that at least 10% of the world’s population is forced to consume food irrigated by wastewater. The result of poor sanitation is the reduction of physical well-being and of social and economic development due to the impacts. For instance, lack of sanitation and is linked to anxiety, risk of sexual assault and the loss of educational opportunities.

In these countries where there is no potable water within the home, this has a disproportionate effect on the lives of women and girls for several reasons. First, women and girls as young as 7 years old are the usual figures in the household who bear the responsibility for collecting water. This task is both physically demanding and time-consuming. Second, women and girls who must leave the home to collect water at often great distances are more vulnerable to abuse and sexual attacks while walking to collect water. Lastly, women and girls need water for hygiene needs during menstruation, pregnancy, and child-rearing. For girls, the lack of running water or toilet facilities in schools results in their being excluded from education entirely or at best being late to attend school due to their duties of water collection before the school day.

The first-ever international assessment of water and sanitation in schools was carried out by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in 2018 and this report confirms that 620 million children do not have decent toilets at school and approximately 900 million cannot wash their hands properly. The lack of decent hygiene facilities is well known to discourage students from attending school, a hardship which particularly girls experience.

British NGO, Wells on Wheels, has a plan to address this problem in India. Familiar with the struggle of Indian girls who have to walk miles each day to fetch water for their households, Wells on Wheels founder, Shaz Memon, came across a story about how carts are being used to reduce the physical burden on women and children. Conducting further research, Memon located Cynthia Koenig, founder of Wello, a charity which manufactures the Water Wheel, a portable barrel which not only has five times the capacity of the containers that women and girls already laboriously carry on their heads, but this water wheel can be rolled on the ground through the assistance of a light, metal trolley. This means that larger water containers of 45 litres can be pulled or pushed across terrain while easing the stress on the bodies of women and girls. His fast-paced work has caught the attention of TV and print media outlets all across India, including the Times of India who reported on his most recent Water Wheel delivery.

Memon frames the subject of water as a significant human rights issue: “Women still carry most of the world’s water. I want to ease the burden on our mothers, sisters, and daughters by aiming to change 1 million lives by 2025 with our work.” One fundraising mechanism enlisted is through crowdfunding through which Wells on Wheels seeks to distribute as many water wheels to villages around India. Recent distributions took place during Holi in Village Sangamner, Dindori, Maharashtra and in Thangoan, Maharashtra. Having received support from dental practices across the UK, Memon has been able to direct his energies towards supplying water wheels to families in India.

Made of high-density polyethylene and able to handle the wear and tear of gravel roads for up to 7,000 kilometres, these water wheel cars are leak-proof and fitted with a food-grade cap. What was once three trips to a well miles away is now one trip and what musculoskeletal disorders caused by the practice of carrying 19.5 kilos of water on the heads of girls and women, is now a thing of the past.

In the first thirty days of crowdfunding, Wells on Wheels raised £20,000 and distributed 714 water wheels which have positively impacted the lives of 3,570 people while allowing 2,142 children to go to school. Following official charity registration status in the UK (Registered Charity №1187217) WOW expands its reach and liberate the number of girls who can finally attend school.

As a result of its community actions across India, Wells on Wheels has to date supplied 2124 water wheels at a cost of £28 each including logistics. This means that for every family or school with a water wheel 2 girls are now able to attend school allowing them to attain literacy while dreaming of a future life of university studies and career. “In the next 15 years, I would like to empower girls to turn their futures around by gaining access to education that they would have otherwise been denied due to water collection duties,” says Memon.

As drought is quickly becoming the primary human rights issue facing the planet, the poor in countries like India are having insurmountable odds for survival. While this burden usually is placed upon the bodies of women and girls, Wells on Wheels offers the water carriers a substantial relief to what is sex-based inequality.

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