I've just returned from a cricket tour of rural India visiting life-saving safe water projects with one of England's top cricketers Nick Compton.
You may love it or hate it (or not understand it) but you can't dispute cricket is a popular game in India. Tendulka has just played his 200th (and final) test match - which in the eyes of your average Indian makes him a god. The villagers may not have safe water or enough food - but in every village there is a TV - often shared between the whole community, and if there is a cricket match on, they'll all be watching.
Unlike all other sports that fight time, cricket rides it. No other game takes five days and so often ends in a gentlemanly draw. But on this tour we were not riding time - we were on a four day, 1000km, four village mission; to hear life changing stories and see the effects that safe water can have on the rural poor. 5000 children, predominantly under fives, still die every day from drinking dirty water - and a lot of those are in India. Nick Compton is not just good with a bat, he has a big heart. He is really keen to help raise awareness not just of the problem but the solutions to dirty water.
It seems like only yesterday that I was in India as an 18 year old, discovering it for the first time, mesmerized by the obscure and wonderful country that stole my heart and shook my guts. I'll never forget the day I drank dirty water and contracted dysentery. That experience in 1998 had such an impact that it propelled me to set up a not for profit social enterprise, retailing bottled water, a relative luxury in the UK, and using the profits to fund safe water projects for communities in rural India with plans to reach other countries by 2015.
In 2007 FRANK Water became a charity in order to receive direct donations. People love our ethos and the way we work in partnership with local NGOs, creating effective and innovative community owned safe water projects. Today we've funded the installation of 114 projects serving over 200,000 people by working with four carefully selected local partners who use different, appropriate solutions for communities, responding to their specific needs in order to provide guaranteed quality safe water.
Driving to the villages always spikes fear as much as interest with the notorious potholed Indian roads throwing us into the path of oncoming rickshaws, trucks, tractors and cows. Clinging to our seats, entranced by the changing landscapes, we moved from chaotic city to rural village. All was bared to us from the window of the car: the beauty, richness, chaos and poverty, familiar after many trips, it never fails to captivate me.
Turning off onto a dust track, we weaved through the hotchpotch of mud houses, haystacks and yards with cows and ox watching our every move as the crowd of villagers come out to greet us.
The cobalt blue of the safe water project stands out from the homes surrounding it. We are welcomed with clasped hands of 'Namaste' and beautiful jasmine wreaths.
We talked to the water committee who run the project (formed from a voted group of villagers, of which three were women and all castes represented). They tell us how it has transformed the lives of the community, significantly reducing sickness caused by the biological bacteria as well as the debilitating effects of the fluoride (chemical) contamination. Nick sampled the purified water produced by the project using the innovative 'Any Time Water' (ATW) device. This is a system by which villagers an electronic card, charged with water "credit" that dispenses exactly 20 litres of safe water. By paying an affordable 3 Rupees (about 3p) for a can of 20 litres the whole community owned system is financially sustainable and ensures a good salary for an operator plus any replacement parts.
Another village we visit I have been to before and it's heartwarming to see some familiar faces and hear how their lives have continued to improve since the safe water project was implemented over 18 months ago.
For Nick, it was good to hear how the villagers have more money now that they pay less for safe, clean water than they used to spend on doctor's appointments and medication for diarrhea and joint pains. Which, in turn, means they can earn more money by working consistently because they are healthy. On top of this, they can now afford to send their children to school and even make improvements to other elements of their lives and that of the wider community.
Another day brought another village. Ramunipatla is home to 900 families that currently drink water containing 2.8mg of fluoride per litre, over five times the safe level recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Nick's reputation precedes him and every village brought demands for autographs and games of cricket. Over the four days we played numerous spontaneous games in the dusty lanes, on scrubs of land or taking over local school playgrounds, surrounded on every side by excited children, lining up to take their turn to bowl at the master batsman.
Through the generosity and support of people like Nick Compton, small organisations like FRANK Water can raise their profile as well as the essential funds that enable us to continue to affect many lives.