Bhagavan Baba's Philosophy and Methodology of Education with a Focus on Water Education for African Cities

Victor Krishna Kanu

IN THE RECENTLY PUBLISHED book "Water - the Elixir of Life", documenting many drinking water projects of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba during the last decade, we read: "Next to air, water is the element most essential to sustain human life. It is therefore no wonder that in ancient times, people in all societies revered water as a wonderful gift of God. Almost all major religions have an important place for water in their rituals; these involve cleansing, blessing, ablutions of various kinds and offerings accompanied by the pouring of water."

Water as a Basic Element

According to the story of creation in the Bible (Genesis 1: V1-2), we are told: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth ..... the earth was without form ....... And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters". This shows the part played by water in the beginning and sustenance of life as perceived by Bible believers.

Truly, water is sacred and must be treated as such by all its users. Yet, there are billions of people on this planet to whom good drinking water is not available or accessible.

Sri Sathya Sai Water Supply Project India

Responding to the dire needs of the people of the scarcity affected regions of Andhra Pradesh, Bhagavan declared in March 1995 that He was going to provide drinking water to the villagers who had been the victims of acute drinking water shortages for more than a century. Sri Sathya Sai Water Supply Project was thus started which has provided water to millions of villagers of Anantapur, Medak, Mahboobnagar, East Godavari and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh during the last 10 years. It has also met the acute drinking water shortage of the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. All this was possible through the unlimited love and grace of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to all mankind. As He Himself says: "I am always ready to help you and serve you. You may belong to any village or any district ......... I do not have any feelings of difference - religious, regional or national. I do not go by the position of the people or the place to which they belong. All are the same to Me and I serve all equally". Bhagavan's example of His concern for the supply of water is being replicated by many countries of the world.

Water in African Cities Project

There exist many dissimilarities in African countries in terms of size, water resources, water management styles, economic differentials, social and environmental norms related to water, etc. Yet their national goals and objectives are basically similar. They all have, as their main goal, the provision of adequate cost- effective and good water supply for all (the economic and social dimensions of water). In cognizance of the fact that these goals cannot be achieved in isolation, these countries have, as complementary goals, the maintenance of a good environment, avoidance of water wastage and pollution, prevention of vandalism and illegal connections; discouraging late or non- payment of water bills, non-tampering of water meters, prevention of water riots and water wars, eradication of corruption and enhancement of adequate sanitation and better hygiene practices through technical and regulatory measures. In pursuit of their goals and objectives, the African cities have been using different strategies as leverages towards the realisation of their national goals. Overall, these strategies have not produced the desired results of reaching national goals and objectives. This is because of the absence of second tower that lays emphasis on the transformation of attitudes and behavioural patterns of water users and providers. UN-HABITAT have for a long time been searching for a tool or mechanism that will enrich and strengthen Water Education strategies in Africa.

Human Values Approach to Water Education in Africa

The introduction of the water education initiative was preceded by an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) convened by UN-HABITAT in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Swedish International Water Institute (SIWI) in Johannesburg, South Africa from 30th April to 2nd May 2001. The meeting brought together international and regional experts on education, curriculum development, urban development, water resources management and NGOs active in water education. The objectives of the meeting were to share information on the ongoing water problem in Africa, develop a broad consensus among all stakeholders with regards to the most effective strategy for introducing Water Education in-African cities, agree on sharing of responsibility for project implementation by different partners and develop an action plan for the project implementation.

An important outcome of the Expert Group Meeting was the consensus acceptance of the paper presented by the Director of the African Institute of Sathya Sai Education (TAISSE) with the title "Water Education: A Human Values Approach" which was, in fact, a reproduction of Sri Sathya Sai Baba's philosophy and methodology of Human Values Education in its pristine form. The recommendation arising therefrom was the pursuance of a Human Values Approach to introducing Water Education for African children and communities.
Understanding Water Education

What is Water Education? From the point of view of the Human Values approach, Water Education is not just about water literacy (knowledge of the science of water, types, sources, uses, treatment, management and its associated problems, etc). These are, of course, important tangibles. However, Water Education is also about intangible things that are equally important. These include people's perceptions of water, the level of their consciousness towards water usage, awareness of their civic responsibilities towards water, cultural beliefs and practices in relation to water. In short, it is about Human Values - about the country's sense of duty, the obligations members have to each other, to the use of water itself and to future generations.

A country's sense of duty ought to be strengthened through Human Values Education towards the management of water and other resources which took billions of years to develop and yet, which would be diminished or exhausted within a relatively short period of time.

There is, thus, a compelling need for the introduction of Human Values in Water Education as a complimentary to the existing technical and regulatory measures in water demand management. In this manner, Water Education will stand firmly on the twin towers of water literacy and Human Values - their understanding, commitment and practice.

The Expert Group noted that Water Education should aim at promoting a better understanding of water as a key social, economic and environmental resource and should facilitate the emergence of a new water management ethic on the continent. It is observed that the introduction and implementation of Value- based Water Education (VBWE) through formal, non-formal and informal channels of learning, especially through the use of the curriculum is a promising strategy to bring about a positive and lasting change in attitude and behaviour towards water at all levels of society.

Value-based Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (VBWSHE)

Having been inspired by the successful implementation of Bhagavan's Values Education programme at the African Institute of Sathya Sai Education (TAISSE), Ndola, Zambia, many countries in Africa today are involved in Value-based Water, Sanitation and


Hygiene Education (VBWSHE) programme.

In 2002, TAISSE was contracted for two years by UN-HABITAT to implement the first phase of Value- based Water Education (VBWE) in six African counties. By the grace of Bhagavan, this was successfully completed in 2004. Impressed with the effectiveness of the values programme in the six African countries, the UN-HABITAT again asked TAISSE in 2005 to implement the second phase of the Value-based Water Education programme to include Sanitation and Hygiene Education, known as Value-based Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (VBWSHE) in twelve African countries. This Cooperation Agreement will end in 2007. This is indeed a major contribution of Bhagavan's education programme, which is essentially philanthropic in its nature, to the upliftment of the African continent.

Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project Zambia

Bhagavan's water projects in India have inspired Sai Education Trust (SET) of Zambia  to follow Sathya Sai Baba's example in the provision of drinking water to the poor. In a small way, the Trust, in May 2005, embarked on the task of providing free clean drinking water to disadvantaged townships surrounding Sri Sathya Sai School, Ndola, Zambia. Ten bore-holes ranging between 60 and 97 metres deep with submersible and hand pumps were drilled in five townships where people had been greatly disadvantaged for centuries past in terms of good drinking water. The sprouting out of water and the simultaneous response of many children as expressed in their shouting and clapping was a moving experience.

There is no doubt that Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba will forever remain a powerful role model in the provision of water to the less-privileged people of the world.
Sourced: Sanathana Sarathi pgs 344 to 347 - November 2005