A continuous hunt for potable drinking water and water for the family farm fuelled Sikandar Meeranayak as a child to grow up and solve the issue of water scarcity in many other villagers. A graduate who now runs a successful non-profit organisation in three states, Sikandar tells edex about how he ended up in his chosen profession. “I was born in a small village called Kotumachagi in Gadag district. Our village was entirely dependent on water from the pond for our use. If rains were not sufficient, we had to walk 2km far to some farmer who could afford a borewell. Those days, most did not go to school,” says Sikandar. Forced by shortage of water, the family also drank impure water gathered from any source possible while growing up.
Sikandar ensured he completed high school. An ambitious person who wanted to break free from the shackles of poverty, he got himself a Bachelor of Social Work degree. It was during this time that he was exposed to a government scheme in which he got a chance to build close to 200 farm ponds. “Everyone went to work. The villagers, children and women. After implementation of the pond, we got some money and rice. We lived like this,” he reminisces.
Today Sikandar has come a long way from those long days spent hauling water from far-off sources. Today, his father and mother tend their three-acre farm and his younger brother works as an assistant director in Sandalwood. “My sister is training to be a paramedic. Even though my parents don’t understand what it is that I do exactly, they have been very encouraging. They never stopped us from studying,” he says.
After completing his degree, Sikandar found himself obsessed with the water problem in the district. “I worked with a few government projects based on providing water supply after graduation and realised that I wanted to help people to proper supply of water. In order to get an idea of how to proceed further, I joined the Deshpande Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation. This is how I became a social entrepreneur,” he says.
Armed with tips and tricks to start a business imparted to him at the Foundation, Sikandar founded the Sankalpa Rural Education Society (SRDS). Today, the society works with villagers in three states and teaches them rain water harvesting and borewell recharge methods. “These methods help farmers cut down on expenses towards digging new borewells. The technology gives them a permanent solution and helps create employment,” Sikandar says.
This ingenious solution adopted by Sikandar involves the excavation of a pit around the borewell and the setting up of a filtration process. During rains, water is directed towards the percolation pit and the borewell is recharged. Presently, Sikandar and SRDS work in Dharwad, Gadag and Haveri taluks in Karnataka, as well as drought-prone areas in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. Not an engineer by profession, Sikandar faced a lot of problems initially. These involved getting villagers to accept his methods as well as sourcing funds for implementation. SDRS’ success story today has not come easily for Sikandar who credits his staff for their hard work. “We have implemented this solution in 280 borewells. We now have 30 people working with us. My education gave me inputs which are helping me now,” he says fondly.
Sankalpa closely works with Government agencies and other donors in order to get funds for recharging more borewells. Their work has won them several awards including the NABARD Rural Innovation Award and the ‘Best Civil Society Sustainability Project’ award from FICCI, Bangalore.
“In my childhood, I saw many people, including my family, face problems trying to source water for even their daily use. I always wanted to find a solution to this problem and I am thankful to be doing what I love,” concludes Sikandar.