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Kalawati Pokhrel is currently a freelance WASH consultant from Nepal. She has been a member of WSSCC for 20 years.
Here, Kala tells WSSCC about her motivations, achievements and hopes for the future.
Why did you start working in WASH?
I have been working in WASH and health since 1991. Before, I was teaching child health nursing, where I experienced many, many children dying due to diarrhoea – in the hospital and in the community. The students I was teaching to were working in city hospitals and no one was interested in working in the community and in the field. I realised this meant that all the teaching and the theory was having little impact in the community. I could have more impact being immersed in the community, so I quit my permanent job for community health work. So, you could say, diarrhoea and death are what motivated me to join the WASH sector.
What gets you out of bed every morning?
My passion working in the WASH sector. Nepal has made huge achievements in WASH and my concern now is how we sustain these gains. WASH is vital for people to live healthy lives, as well as for the overall development of a nation. I used to teach to nursing students, but I have much more satisfaction now, working on WASH, than I did teaching. It has wider scope to contribute to and to prevent vulnerable people from WASH-related diseases using simple measures.
What impact did being a woman have on your work?
When I first started doing this work in 1991, no other women of my level were working in those remote and rural areas of Nepal. As women, we were not allowed to go out in the field. And so it was very challenging – geographically, socially, and culturally. But I was lucky as my family was very supportive. Even today, there are still very few women in the sector.
I’ve also done a lot of work with women on menstrual health and reproductive health. I learned a lot in the community. At that time, nobody was listening to the voices of women in the community and the women wouldn’t bring their problems to the male staff of the projects. So, I went and talked and listened to these women, and brought their problems to the table. Slowly, we got the women more involved in working on sanitation and hygiene in their communities, so that the Open Defecation Free (ODF) movement in Nepal became very much led by women in the communities.
When you retire, what will you be most proud of in terms of your sanitation and hygiene work?
Nepal has marked many milestones on sanitation and hygiene – and I’m proud to have been involved in making these happen. For example, my involvement in the ODF movement that led to an ODF Nepal. Access to toilets went from 6% (1991) to 100% (2019).
I have worked more than 20 years in remote and rural areas of Nepal, where I helped those most vulnerable and in need. Following the 2009 diarrhoea epidemic when 300 people died in Jajarkot (a mid-western region of Nepal), I was one of the campaigners to “make diarrhoea epidemic a history.”
What are the three biggest impacts COVID-19 has had on your sanitation and hygiene work?
One positive impact has been the increased awareness campaigns on handwashing with soap. The mass media, as well as many other sectors, have played a key role and become more active in this.
However, there has also been poor management of solid wastes due to increased risk of contamination to the environment and people’s health. There’s also been delays to programmes through loss of job opportunities and suspended field work.
How has the SuSanA discussion forum helped you with your work?
I have been a member since the start of SuSanA. It has helped me mostly to connect with global issues, research work and networking. The research products and their recommendations especially have helped me to improve my work – and the work of my organization.
What are the top three benefits of WSSCC membership?
Tell us a good example of working with WSSCC and other WSSCC members in your country
WSSCC worked jointly with the government and other stakeholders on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) which influenced the government to develop national policy on MHM in Nepal. The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) also contributed remarkably in ODF in general and specifically in the 8 Terai districts of Nepal.
The Sanitation and Hygiene Fund has just been launched. In the next five years, what difference do you hope the fund will make in your country?