Debasis Mondal’s bright orange vest signifies the important role he plays in communities in his region of India. He’s a Jalabandhu – a “Friend of Water.”
The Jalabandhu are hand pump mechanics, and they are responsible for making sure broken pumps are fixed as soon as possible, so community members don’t have to go without safe water. Having locally available mechanics improves the sustainability of water points, since pumps can be repaired anytime they break down.
“There used to be no hand pump mechanics in my gram panchayat (equivalent to a US county),” explains Debasis. “The gram panchayat used to hire mechanics from outside, but this would increase the time it took to repair hand pumps.”
The long repair time meant community members would go long periods of time without safe water, and would have to walk further distances to find an alternative – and often an unsafe source.
“I felt that the gram panchayat needed a trained mechanic, so I decided to start my business as a Jalabandhu,” said Debasis.
Debasis’ gram panchayat and other gram panchayats partnered with Water For People to organize a seven-day Jalabandhu training program in the district of West Bengal, where Debasis lives. After the training, Water For People worked with its local implementing partner to help Debasis establish his business.
“When there were no Jalabandhus in our gram panchayat, it used to take almost a month to get the repairs done,” says Debasis. “Now these repairs are done within a day!”
Debasis began expanding his business as a hand pump mechanic, in addition to maintaining his small farm. As he grew his Jalabandhu business, his family’s income doubled, allowing Debasis to save and plan for the future.
“When I was only engaged in farming, it was difficult to take care of my family,” shares Debasis. “The income from these bigger repair projects has helped me turn things around for my family.”
Debasis currently repairs three to four hand pumps a week. He leaves to fix a pump whenever a community, school, or gram panchayat leader calls him. Moving forward, Debasis is focused on continuing to provide the best and quickest service he can to his customers, because he knows how critical safe water is.
“Being able to serve the community members with drinking water is what makes me proud of my work,” he says.