Bringing Water and Dignity to the Women of the Thar Desert

The water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat, are essential to our wellbeing. In the developing world, simple fundamental needs like water are in high demand with limited resources. PRESENCE, in partnership with Traditional Medicinals and Nioma Sadler, WomenServe Founder and Board Chair, have taken a small but meaningful step to help a community in the remote Thar desert in India by building taankas which will quench thirst and so much more. In recent years, PRESENCE created OnePresence , focusing on our culture, our partners, and our communities as we work to create a world that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Last year, PRESENCE employees raised money to help build a school in the Western African country of Togo. This year, 100% of the funds raised by PRESENCE employees was sent to WomenServe, to construct 20 taankas in Western Rajasthan, India. “Taankas” are a traditional indigenous technology for catching and storing rainwater and have been adapted and improved using modern methods.

WomenServe works with local NGOs and community members to fund projects that support gender equality for women and girls. Western Rajasthan is home to the Thar Desert, one of the harshest and most populated deserts in the world. In this desert, the burden of the water shortage falls primarily on women and girls, who spend hours carrying water every day. Time spent walking, is time that girls and women can’t go to school or work to earn an income. These conditions perpetuate a system of oppression and inequality.

A key part of constructing taankas is the community-based nomination and recipient selection process that is undertaken with support from local leaders and women representatives from Self Help Groups (SHGs). SHGs are groups of women that gather to learn skills, support one another, and grow a group savings fund that members can borrow loans from to start businesses or weather emergencies. In the process of selecting taanka recipients, SHG members nominate a woman or family that is most in need of water. Together with the village leaders, the SHGs select the beneficiaries who will receive taankas that year through a democratic discussion and voting process.

In May of 2023, the WomenServe team traveled to a desert village to meet with community leaders and taanka beneficiaries from 2022, to hear firsthand how water security has impacted their lives and community. The first challenge was traveling to the remote village. The team rode in jeeps through the sand dunes, where there were no roads, no signs, and GPS is spotty at best. When they arrived, the community welcomed them, and shared openly about the challenges they’ve faced with lack of infrastructure. The community struggles with no water system, no electricity, no roads, and extreme weather. In May, the days are so hot under the midday sun that you can be burned by touching the sand.

Jyoti and Niranjan, two team members from SRKPS (WomenServe’s 2023 grant partner and implementing organization), accompanied the WomenServe team to connect with the community and taanka recipients. Ten recipients were visited at their homes, where they welcomed the team with the tradition of sharing chai (black tea with spices, milk, and sugar). Sitting together, the women told their stories, reflecting on the challenges they faced with water scarcity before they received their taanka. Many would go days without water and feared for the health of their families. Through their stories, the impact of water is clear – it provides not only for drinking, cooking, and bathing, but also gives them time, dignity, and peace of mind.

“Since we began working in Rajasthan, I’ve heard countless stories of women trekking for water, sacrificing their time and opportunity for this vital resource. In the desert, nothing is possible without water – it is the first step to supporting the empowerment and development of women in these communities,” said WomenServe Founder Nioma Sadler.  “An amazing thing happens when this issue is addressed. We see women and girls take advantage of opportunities, learn skills, and find ways to support themselves and give back to their community. The impact is incredible. Each time I visit the desert, my commitment and passion for this work is renewed.”  

According to Swati Bhardwaj, WomenServe Head of Program and Operations in India, “Western Rajasthan is the most remote area. The women here have the greatest need, and water is so essential. Women can walk 10 to 20 kilometers per day just to carry water home, which takes a lot of time and means they can’t get an education. If we can achieve this first phase (of water security),  then they can get time back and go to school. My hope is that this next generation will be better supported and have better facilities and opportunities, including education, water, health, and skills to earn an income.” “In this village they don’t have water. Because of that there is more poverty, more unemployment, and lack of education. It is always easy to work where there are favorable conditions, but to work and succeed where it is hard is the biggest achievement”. 

Several of the women have begun to build new homes, made out of cement and stone instead of thatch, mud, and cow dung. This is only possible with a stable and sufficient supply of water. With access to water, the change in these women is remarkable: they are more rested, happier, and speak of their future with hope.

“Man has reached the moon, but here we are still trying to work on water. If our little bit of hard work can help make someone’s life better, there is no greater happiness. Working in the Thar Desert for water conservation contributes to the upliftment of humankind. The next step after water is nutrition through plants and gardens, which will support and help solve health issues,” said Niranjan Singh of SRKPS, the water program technical advisor.

For more information on WomenServe, contact Angela Benton, Senior Director of Foundation and Grants at