From Gorkha priests to Kathmandu to Terai… and back to Kathmandu
Bimal was born and grew up in Terai (the plains) in Province 2, Dhanusa District. Bimal’s family had moved to Terai from Kathmandu for his father’s work. Bimal’s family line is originally from Gorkha, where his family functioned as priests to the royal family in the Gorkha kingdom. After the Shah King invaded Kathmandu Valley in the 1760s and unified Nepal, Bimal’s family line eventually followed and settled in
Kathmandu. Bimal’s family still lives in the same settlement, Ratopul, and the house the family lived in from 1934 is still standing – having survived the two great earthquakes (1934 and 2015)!
Bimal moved to Ratopul, Kathmandu after class 8 in 1968. In Kathmandu, Bimal completed the SLC, and received his certificate and diploma before receiving a master’s degree in business management from Tribhuvan University.
After graduating, Bimal started out working as a Research Officer for the Agricultural Projects Service Center (APROSC), a semi-government organization. It was after this that Bimal’s WASH career kicked off!
WASH sector and Birendranagar
In 1993, Bimal joined a World Bank pilot project of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Fund Development Board (RWSSFDB), supported by several international development agencies, e.g. UNDP and Japanese grants. This led to him working next for the Asian Development Bank’s 4th water supply project in the far west development region (current province 7), where he worked as a consultant on social mobilization and community development for 2 years. This project was managed by the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management (DWSSM), and so Bimal is familiar with many of those working there today – even if the majority have retired by now.
Bimal is no stranger to Birendranagar, as he joined Helvetas about 20 years ago as Monitoring and Information Coordinator, on their Linking local Initiative to New Knowhow, (LINK) project in Mid Western and Far Western Development Regions, with the main office in… Birendranagar! What used to be their office is not far from the SUSWA office. This allowed Bimal to visit many districts of (what was to become) the Karnali province already 20 years ago, giving him a perspective on things that few in the SUSWA team have.
By now a WASH expert, Bimal worked as a short-term consultant for the RWSSFDB, evaluating and monitoring activities performed by NGOs, and eventually working as the Monitoring and Evaluation Division Chief in 2003-2009.
First contact with Finns
In 2009, Bimal joined the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project in West Nepal, RWSSP-WN, a bilateral project funded by the Finnish government. During his 5 years at RWSSP-WN, Bimal worked with 3 Finnish Chief Technical Advisors and 3 Junior Technical Advisors.
After this, Bimal supported multiple DFID-funded projects while Executive Director for STANDS Nepal for 6 years intermittently. For example, Bimal consulted for the IWEL UK organization, ASWA 2 project by UNICEF, SSH4A implemented by SNV Nepal and in 8/9 other countries, UN Habitat Global Sanitation Fund on ODF campaign in two districts. During this time, Bimal visited Humla, Jumla and Dailekh in Karnali.
During these years Bimal also traveled abroad a lot, for example for training in Australia, Belgium, and Bangladesh and visited France and Italy too, as well as visiting Ethiopia twice to observe WASH programs.
Eventually, Bimal joined SUSWA on the 22nd of November, met with Narayan, who he knew from RWSSP-WN, and Mario on the 24th of November, and started working on the 25th of November 2021. And now here we are!
Interview with Bimal: I always have a bag packed, ready to travel
What does your title COORD mean?
I am the monitoring and evaluation/coordination specialist. So far, my main focus has been on the project administration and the implementation manuals and preparing for the baseline study.
Throughout the project, my focus will be on following the ongoing progress of palikas and monitor the activities and the reporting of activities of the palikas, e.g., have they reported in line with the SDG indicators. I will also support in building the reporting system and making it functional. Another part of my role is to support the CTA on administrative and financial matters.
(And while Mario will be on leave, Bimal will be in charge of the PSU team).
You have 30 years of experience in the WASH sector, but as a business management major – why WASH?
When working for the APROSC after graduating, I got 2-3 assignments by the DWSSM and met with Namaste Lal Shrestha – a pioneer in the WASH sector working for UNICEF at the time. Meeting him and working on these assignments inspired me to work in the WASH sector.I remember writing in a document that the sanitation coverage of Nepal was 16%. 16%! My motivation became to increase that number. Sanitation was just a small part of water projects at the time, the focus was on the hardware aspect of new big water supply schemes, perhaps only mentioning how many toilets (perhaps even just temporary toilets) had been built in the project reporting.
What changed in the WASH sector?
The Sanitation master plan was a game changer in 2011. After this, the sanitation sector received more focus. The RWSSP-WN also moved this forward a lot since 2009, mobilizing communities to build toilets, and sanitation gaining momentum. In just 7 years, 2011-2019, Nepal was declared ODF (open defecation free), a huge change in the WASH sector.
How about when you grew up in Terai, where there sanitation facilities?
The water supply was dug wells, and most of the community didn’t use toilets, even if our house had a toilet.
You have witnessed a lot of change in the WASH sector. What about changes in Kathmandu in the past 50 years since you moved there?
Kathmandu has changed so much in my life! There were only 10 houses when moved to Ratopul, most of the area was agriculture field, and feces was used directly as manure. Now there are so many houses it is difficult to find my own house.
Has the change been similar in Birendranagar since you worked here 20 years ago?
20 years ago, there was not much in this part of Birendranagar (Kalinchowk) apart from the Helvetas office and the main bazar was 3-4 hotels and restaurants. Now there are so many tall houses, it has changed so much.
I have to ask… how has it been working with so many Finns? You can be honest (said Hanna, the Finn interviewing Bimal).
Working with Finnish people is good, how they work and behave in a team is good, and I have gotten a lot of information on, for example, social norms and knowledge on preventing sexual harassment, from working in a Finnish team.
What makes you still want to do this work, what made you join SUSWA?
At first, I was hesitant, but once I had read the document, I could not resist it! I was impressed with the targets of SUSWA!
As sanitation is now pretty good and almost every house has water (quality may be either good or bad), what SUSWA envisioned, the focus on functionality and quality which are the major challenges, and sustaining ODF in sanitation as well as improving hygiene behavior and striving to reach total sanitation status and WSP+++, these are the new areas coming up, and they are challenging! I liked the focus of SUSWA, the principles and the target the project had set, and I love working in Finnish projects, so I could not say no, so I sent my CV after all.
I still find work exciting and I keep learning new things!
As a grandfather, what does your family think about your work?
My wife, two sons, two daughters-in-law and two grandsons all live in Kathmandu and are all busy. They let me decide for myself how much I want to work. My wife has been working as a teacher in Kathmandu for the past 28 years and has never complained about me moving around so much, as this is how I have always been – visiting project areas, and traveling.
I always have a bag packed, ready to travel.
- momo or dal bhat – dal bhat is the main, but if I have to choose, momo. But in the mornings, I do prefer dal bhat…
- tea without sugar or tea with sugar – AND MILK
- waking up early or staying up late – I wake up at 5.30 most days
- working in remote areas or working in accessible areas – I want to work where it is the most challenging!