The time has come for an interview with Mario Milanesi (originally from Milan, fittingly), SUSWA’s Chief Technical Advisor.
After 3 months in Nepal, Mario is flying home to his family in Spain for a well-earned two weeks holiday today, so the interview was conducted last minute – in the backseat of a taxi from Bishal Nagar to Kupondole in Kathmandu (as if we needed more proof after these months of his efficiency and multitasking skills!)
I’ll get right to it – Why WASH?
Because integrated rural development, the topic I had studied, was too complicated in practice. Not seeing impact got frustrating. After this, I tried working on migration issues, but it was too political; supporting the safe travel of African migrants to Europe, funded by the Interior Ministry of the European Union, during the same time that Frontex was established… I felt like a liar.
Finally, an NGO proposed a water project and I discovered a new life, it was amazing. In a 3-year WASH project, after hard and honest work, you can really see a difference in the life of people.
What is your best WASH memory?
The first love, a WASH project in Senegal. The partnership between a French town, a French municipality, a group of municipalities in Senegal, and an Italian NGO was so good, so beautiful. The technology was so advanced, with an interconnected ‘one house one tap’ system. It was a flagship project for the entire country and won a lot of awards. With young people working in the project – everything seemed possible! The project promoted sustainability and an innovative post-construction strategy. Water Safety Plans were tested in the project already in 2008, 10 years before becoming mainstream. Visiting the project in 2018, about 95% of the schemes that were started in 2006 were still working, with users paying the bills/tariffs to keep it running. This is what makes this kind of project so amazing!
When visiting communities in Zanzibar, Tanzania, they always made me sit under the mango tree where ghosts and devils were… because I was the guy asking them to pay for water, which until then had been free. But it worked!
What do you look forward to the most in the SUSWA project?
The sustainability focus! The social progressiveness is also really exciting, perhaps the most advanced project in that way. But with many around the team and on the team making sure to push this topic, I can strive to focus more on where my contribution may be the most valuable .
What do you think will be the most challenging?
With the decentralization process and transfer of power still ongoing in Nepal, recent Supervisory board changes, as well as us being all the way in Surkhet, there is still some unclarity in working together with the ministry, which is really important for the project and for us to figure out.
You’ve lived for 20 years in countries in North Africa and Subsaharan Africa and you’ve been in Nepal three times before the SUSWA project. What were your first impressions of Birendranagar?
In the beginning, you just have a very general impression. After 3 months you start focusing less on aesthetics and services and focus more on other factors for good quality of life. Now I see that some positives in Birendranagar are that there is a lot of space so it’s not crowded, people are very nice, it seems very safe. With a good house, anyone can be comfortable in Birendranagar, at least with a pile of good books and a good WIFI connection.
You are heading home to Spain to your family tonight, what are you looking forward to the most?
Setting a new balance with my family. In the past my wife and two daughters have lived abroad with me, but not this time. These first three months have been like a long short mission, with all of us sort of holding our breath. Now, once the two weeks are over and I will leave them to return to Nepal, it will really become real; it is not just a short mission.
So not missing food, consistent water pressure…?
Ha. No. [After a pause] Maybe I’ve missed some good wine. But otherwise, I’m enjoying the food in Nepal – it is good!
- Momo or dal bhat – no competition!
- Working and living somewhere remote or somewhere accessible – both, but if I have to choose…