Sometimes it is true that a picture can paint a thousand words. This week’s photo challenge: A Split-Second Story, inspired me to dig deep throughout my vast archive of photographs, each one telling a story of a certain place and time. In my opinion, there is no place on earth that a simple photo can tell so much about a place than India.

India, one of the most populous countries on the earth, is full of color, contradiction, glory and pain. It is a place of wonder, sorrow, fear and hope. India bursts with humanity on every street or corner you pass. You can see it all there – poverty, wealth, good, bad, happy, sad, beauty and tragedy.

Behind the beautiful, lavish parts of India always lies the most abject poverty imaginable. Nothing can prepare you for the stark reality of desperation, misery and despair of walking through a real live slum in the heart of India’s capital. Sometimes the most severe poverty is hidden behind the walls and within the confines of a slum. Other times, it stares right back at you like a hard slap across your face. You try to look away, and ignore the creeping, uncomfortable nagging guilt. But you can’t.


Vivekananda Camp, Delhi India

Woman leaving the newly constructed toilet compound thanks to WaterAid.


Vivekananda Camp

Women living on the street, outside the walls of the American Embassy near Vivekananda Slums in Delhi, India.

In the background of the lush green, beautiful grounds of the American Embassy lies the Vivekananda Camp, one of many unauthorized slums that surround every single part of Delhi. I visited this slum as part of a tour with WaterAid, a global NGO that provides safe drinking water and sanitation to areas around the world that do not have access to it.

The stark contrast between the neighboring American Embassy and the Vivekananda Slum were almost too hard to morally comprehend. These two places represent the immense contradictions and inequalities that can be found all throughout Delhi and India as a whole. One of the greatest inequalities ever seen anywhere in the world is right there staring into your face, making it impossible to not feel deeply distraught.

In the Vivekananda Camp, a slum of approximately 500 households, there is no running water, no sewer lines and people live in absolute dire circumstances. Thanks to WaterAid, improvements to sanitation have been made by the building of a Community Toilet Complex (CTC), a compound containing 20 toilets for women, 20 for men and a few for children as well as a couple of showers, providing some sort of dignity in a place where dignity hardly exists.

When I saw the old woman leaving the Community Toilet Complex, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was moving slowly, at a snail’s pace, with the help of an old wooden cane. She was heading back into the deep confines of the dirty, dingy slum, to her home.  I watched her gait with wonder and hope. She had to be in her eighties and most likely spent almost all her life without a proper toilet. Finally after all these years she had the one thing every human being on this earth is entitled to: Dignity. It brought tears to my eyes for the simple things we take for granted.

Less than a third of people ( 772 million people) have access to sanitation in India, and 90 million people in India do not have access to safe water per WaterAid.  Over 186,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year. With 17% of the world’s population (over a billion people), the water crisis in India is only getting worse and is becoming life or death for millions of people.


This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story. To view more entries, click here


Note: Right after I posted this today I saw the following tragic press release from WaterAid. Lack of toilets reportedly linked to murder of Uttar Pradesh girls . Via @WaterAidAmerica


  1. “India bursts with humanity on every street or corner you pass…” I feel similarly about India. It’s overwhelming in many ways but definitely one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, too. One question I kept asking myself is: how could you even begin to approach poverty on such devastating levels? My own ignorance hit me hard.

    1. Thanks for the comment Sarah. Yes it is so hard to reach poverty when it is so huge but I do know there is a lot that can be done such as promoting education, and also improving health of its people as many people die from disease. This is an entire new blog post in itself! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

    1. Thanks Sue. Yes it is crazy what a bubble we live in here in the western world. So much heartache going on and oftentimes it gets missed.

    1. Yes water is such a scarce resource that is necessary for life. It is devastating that so many people don’t have this simple need around the world. It was really hot in India too that day. 120 F and I couldn’t stop drinking bottled water I was sweating so much. However the slum had no running water. The water truck would drive up and the women would fill their buckets for the day. I can’t even imagine a life like that and they are the lucky ones that actually get access to water.

    1. Thank you Jaime. India was an unbelievable place. I would love to go back someday as I’ve only been to Delhi (twice) a small piece of such an enormous vibrant country.

  2. As an expat who has lived in India for 3 years, this post (and the pictures) have special relevance to me. I have volunteered during my time here as an English teacher in a government school for children from one of the local slums. Two years ago, some local companies and an NGO provided funds to build toilets at the school, as there had been none previously. We were so happy to give these to the teachers and the children. We had to teach them how to use the facilities as this was a foreign concept for them. Within months, the facilities became dingy, dirty messes, but they were still in use. The privacy of doing “business” behind closed doors was still there, but many of the children still choose to use the street. Have you encountered similar situations with your time with WaterAid? Do they provide instruction on how to use the toilet to the residents? I would be curious to hear if the facilities are still in use in a few years, or if they are abandoned due to cultural differences.

    This is a SIGNIFICANT issue in India. I see people (of all levels of income) doing their “business” on the street daily. It’s the norm here, and diseases are spread quickly through its practice. Thank you so much for sharing this story and the photos.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. Wow, three years in India must have been amazing. Do you write a blog? If so have you shared your experiences? I would love to read it if so. Yes water and proper sanitation are so essential to life. It is hard to believe that in the heart of cities they don’t even have these available always. It really was amazing to see the changes that the toilets brought to this community. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experience!

  3. I’m very concerned about what’s happening to the world’s most precious resource, fresh water. I feel for those who will have to live in the world 100 years from now after we have melted the world’s glaciers and countries go to war over fresh water. GREAT PHOTOS that tell possibly the world’s most important story.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, water is so precious and so important and we are wasting it and contaminating it. It is very scary. Besides being an advocate for women and girls, I also am very concerned about our climate and our planet. There is so much to concern us now. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    1. Thank you Lauren. I’m so glad the post touched you. Yes being in this slum with these amazing people made me cry for humanity. It is so unfair but I’m glad that they got at least some dignity in their lives. 🙂

  4. It really is such a horrible disparity. Just the other day my girlfriend and I were discussing this as we were walking in NYC and there was a water truck driving down the street shooting water at the planters on top of a light post wasting probably more than half the water (and this was also a day before it was supposed to rain)

    I loved my time in India and found the people there to be incredibly friendly and nice but the slums were definitely shocking and sad to see.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It is crazy how much water we waste. When I got back from my first time in India, I remember taking my first shower at home and feeling guilty. Even now I am very aware of how much water I use when washing dishes and other things but still, it really is insane. I’m really glad that I was able to get this first eye view in the slums and learn about some of the fantastic programs they are doing to help people.

      1. Thank YOU for showing us a little of piece of the world from your travels 🙂 I enjoy seeing the beautiful faces and the stories behind them.

  5. I was teary-eyed reading this post Nicole. Your passion for bringing difficult topics to light is very moving.

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