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India Expedition | Was held March 20-29, 2015

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A group of 10 NMSU students visited India last month as part of the Aggies Go Global program and UBELONG, a Washington, D.C.-based volunteer organization, to learn about water issues there. Here, some of the students show off their henna tattoos. (Photo by Chelsea Canon/Aggies Go Global)
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Residents of rural communities in India have to make daily trips to wells in order to get the water they need for cooking, cleaning and bathing. (Photo by Chelsea Canon/Aggies Go Global)

NMSU Aggies Go Global students learn about water issues in India

Ten New Mexico State University students and a public health faculty member had an eye-opening experience over spring break last month during a visit to northern India to learn about water issues there, and Friday the students will share their experience with others.

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Senior NMSU education student Lizeth Herrera teaches English words to a group of Indian children. (Photo by Chelsea Canon/Aggies Go Global)

The students' 10-day trip was part of an expedition organized by Aggies Go Global and UBELONG, a Washington, D.C.-based international volunteering and learning organization. The students traveled to India over spring break with Gary Lowe, who is also the coordinator of Aggies Go Global. The students were joined by Sue Forster-Cox, an associate professor and online program coordinator in the College of Health and Social Services, and her husband, a retired hydrologist.

Several students will be speaking about their trip during the Global Aggie Coffee Hour from 4-5 p.m. Friday, April 24, in the Senate Chambers inside of the Garcia Annex.

Lowe, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in India 50 years ago, said the country became a new UBELONG destination for volunteering last year. Lowe said he was approached by UBELONG co-founder Raul Roman last year about co-leading an expedition to India.

In an initial planning discussion, "Raul said, 'What should be the theme?' It just popped out of my head - water," Lowe said. "I live in New Mexico, water is a very important issue in a variety of ways. Water is very important in India in all sorts of ways, and we ran with that."

Lowe said among the water issues people living in India face are water quality, public health and sanitation. As part of the expedition, Lowe and Roman arranged to have students meet with Suresh Rohilla, a program director at India's Centre for Science and Environment and an expert in urban water in India; Ramaswamy Iyer, the former secretary of water resources for the India government; Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International known in India for his work in social reform through sanitation and hygiene; Ami Jain, CEO and founder of E Health Point, a water and sanitation nonprofit organization; Louis-Georges Arsenault, the United Nations resident coordinator in India; and Nidhi Pasi, director of research at WaterAid India. The group also met with staff and viewed projects of the non-governmental organization Seva Mandir in Udaipur.

The expedition incorporated three cities: Delhi, Udaipur and Agra. Students also had opportunities to visit city markets, slums and rural areas, as well as the Taj Mahal.

Chelsea Canon, a senior majoring in agriculture and international community development, said she chose to take the opportunity to travel to India because of her interest in water, which was instilled in her by her father, a state water rights engineer.

"I grew up on a farm where water is a daily struggle," Canon said. "I want to start my own nonprofit eventually that incorporates water, so it's just a huge interest."

Canon said seeing the parallels between India and New Mexico was "quite attractive," but she was shocked at how much sanitation and water availability are huge issues in India.

"There's people who have to walk all the time to water trucks to get water, and kids do it, too," Canon said. "They carry a weight that's heavier than themselves. A lot of them can get injured because they're carrying such weight, but it's something they have to do every single day. Some of them don't have water, so they have to look for other means to get it. And even then, some of the water is not even clean."

Lizeth Herrera, a senior early childhood and Spanish major, said she learned how to "think globally but act locally" during the trip.

"Many of the problems with water that India is going through we also have in our country," Herrera said. "India's water resources are quickly going away, just like ours. I learned of how India is trying to control this issue and I can use these ideas to help my community as well."

Herrera is a native of California, which is experiencing its own water woes.

"Every time I speak with my friends from back home, I hear about the issues of the drought. Many people are having to ration their water supply," Herrera said. "Much like many of the slums, where there is a truck dispensed a day to cover over hundred of families. Something that I saw people in India doing was harvesting rain water, something that could help us here in New Mexico but is illegal is many areas."

Canon said she was initially hesitant about going to India, but ended up falling in love with the country and its people.

"Every one here was saying, 'Oh, India is such a horrible country, such a bad country,' but it really wasn't," Canon said. "I didn't meet one person who was really hostile or really mean or really negative. I came back with a much better impression of India than I thought I would."

Some funding for the trip was provided by Aggies Go Global, the Office of International and Border Programs and ASNMSU.

The eight other students who took the trip last month were Sativa Cruz, Brett Hoffman, Courtney Hurt, Cristy Lopez, Jennifer Lopez, Matisun McDougal, Drena Sanchez and Carmen Denise Escobar.

Article and full-size images can be found at: NMSU News Center

India: Water, Life, Future

Connect with one of the most critical issues for both New Mexico and India and get a first hand comparative perspective by experiencing one of the Epicenters of the challenge.

Trip details (PDF)

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