Narayan, known in the SUSWA team for his infectious laughter and his calm when stating that he disagrees (‘that is fine, but I mean…’), is originally from Syangja, in the western part of Nepal, near Pokhara. Due to unfertile land on the hill, his family migrated to Nawar Parashi district in the plain area (Terai). His family eventually ended up migrating back to close to where they were from, the town of Pokhara, which is now where his big extended family of 55 live and where Narayan spends his holidays. However, Narayan studied in Kathmandu after which he felt familiar with Kathmandu and decided to stay with his family of four. His wife works for an insurance company, and they have a daughter aged 13 and a son aged 9. His family is very supportive of his work, even though his children think he should take them along sometimes when they see his amazing pictures from the field or from travels abroad.
Speaking of traveling, Narayan has visited many countries, and among them – Finland! He participated in a dry toilet seminar in Tampere in 2012.
Narayan’s ability to have convincing discussions has been put to good use at SUSWA, where he has held all the introductory workshops for the 8 fast track palikas (municipalities). As the last introductory workshop was held this week, Narayan was at the SUSWA office today – a rare event so far – and free for an interview!
Interview with Narayan, Technical Specialist
Pictures from different Intoductory workshops Narayan has held in the past two months
What does your title, Technical Specialist, mean?
‘Technical’ includes everything. It is not only focused on either water or sanitation, but covers all, and so I really am a technical specialist in a broader aspect. A technical specialist is a typical position in a Finnish project in Nepal, however, what does it mean? Water specialist? WASH specialist? What does technical refer to here? Reading the job description or ToR, it seems to prioritize technical knowledge of water systems, over those of sanitation and hygiene. However, for me, as a WASH professional, technical specialist means all components that come under WASH, providing guidance and support for water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
How did you end up as Technical specialist in a WASH project?
After high school, I moved to Kathmandu for further studies and got the opportunity to study at the Institute of engineering at Pulchowk campus, receiving a Diploma in civil engineering. As a rural guy, I was very interested in serving people, working for people and so I joined projects as a junior engineer.
The first was a government project funded by Danida, and the second project was the ‘mother project’, of social mobilization approach in Nepal and the turning point on my career, that really helped me and guided me to think on my future and what I should do. The guiding project for my career. I was a local consultant for UNOPS project to support on infrastructure development though project focus was on social mobilization in 1996. The project extended in 40 districts in Nepal with the name of PDDP (Participatory Decentralized Development Programme), with support of UNDP, and finally throughout the country with the name of DLGSP (Decentralized Local Governence Support Project) . The project was South Asian Poverty Programme, being piloted in Nepal, and the norms that we set were very unique. We strived to live very simple even we hadn’t accept the tea/coffee or drinking water from the communities during field on their homes and discuss with communities an show a model to other government/development agencies people who visited communities in the name of development/support to the communities but demanded big meals and used to spent lot of time on its preparation. The project want to show a model of working style and focus on the work rather than good food and time for pleasing to the government/ development workers. As working modality was quite different then other organizations and it was a UN project the payment was also good and so the project made me think that I should keep working in the development field, it makes me and others happy and allows me to make money at the same time.
After I completed my bachelors in civil engineering, I worked for many different agencies, for example International Development Enterprises, IDE. In 2003, it was a pioneer when it came to putting the MUS, multiple water use system, to practice! I continued on my MUS focus on the Finnish project RVWRMP. Joinging RVWRMP was another turning point in my career, as my roles had until then been purely engineering focused. Thenafter, I joined RWSSP-WN project as a WASH advisor I had more of a managerial position with this role.
After 3 years on RWSSP-WN, I moved to WaterAid as Rural programme manager, a key position for WaterAid as almost 75-80% of the budget was for rural programme. I handled the three biggest national WASH agencies (NEWAH, KIRDARC and BASE) as a funding manager, which meant there was often quite a lot of pressure on me. However, I successfully handled the management and partnerships.
After the earthquake in 2015 the number of organizations in Nepal multiplied in name of the response. I had been 4 years at WaterAid so felt like the time to move on. I therefore joined as programme manager for International Medical Corp, but unfortunately after two years they decided to close their mission in Nepal, as it had been mostly focused on earthquake response.
In 2018, I joined Plan International as WASH coordinator, however I left already after 4 months because I got the opportunity to work for Action Contre la Faim on position of Head of Department- WASH programme and worked for 4 years as head of their WASH department.
Then I got some different calls, one was from KAWAS, with Chemonics and Helvetas as partners, and they approached me and asked if I was interested in the position of Deputy chief of the Party. However, it did not become a reality at the time.
15 days later, Niras approached me and asked if I might be interested in SUSWA. I had been in contact with Niras already since 2013, when they were planning their proposal for RWSSP-WN second phase and have provide my CV to their rooster. I said ok and got the opportunity to talk with Mikaela and the Niras team. Luckily, Niras won the tender and now here we are!
With this background, I thought it would be very helpful for the SUSWA project that I support the implementation of WASH activities based on what I have learned in the past 22 years and from the 9 other organizations I have worked in. This experience is the main component that I bring to this position.
With your experience and background, how do you think your 10th project has kicked off?
We are still in a very preliminary stage of the project, but at a very crucial time. Everyone observes our progress and actions from different perspectives, and so it is a very critical time for the team to show our efforts, and at the same time our team is still very small. With a small team it is really a challenge to fulfill the huge expectations from different stakeholders, which is something we need to manage. Maybe we cannot fulfill all the expectations by government agencies and stakeholders in such a short time, but we should ensure that our work moves forward smoothly and showcase this. At this point, I think that is how we can define success for us.
So, with that definition, we have done well in the past 4 months, even at field level. We have already visited twice the 8 fast track palikas, giving a clear message to them that this is really a good project and they are happy to provide a matching fund from their side, they have already given that kind of commitment, and we have had a lot of good interaction with the different palika representatives. This is a good message. We also have good visibility, the rural palikas know who SUSWA is and what the SUSWA plan is. Similarly, the process of office establishment, for example, settling staff, vacancy announcements, is all underway, and there are good signals to move ahead. All this is adequate for this time. Creating the team is the most critical part – having a team is one thing, but having a team with a similar kind of understanding is something that must be created with time and cannot be hurried. It is important to find the right people and ensure the team is effective, a monolithic kind of team with a clear objective, while at the same constituting of different individuals with different knowledge and experience.
You mentioned that SUSWA has already visited the 8 fast track palikas twice, which has taken a lot of time. You are the one who has held all the introductory workshops, and so you have barely been at the office at all in the past 4 months! What is your view of SUSWA and the palikas, from the field?
When the palikas first hear of SUSWA project, most of them think it is a INGO coming with a water scheme project. This is their preliminary perception. But when we discuss and have our Introductory workshop presentation their mind totally changes. ‘Ah, it is a bilateral government project!’. Now they are feeling all decisions will be on them, with supporting hands from the Project Support Unit, PSU, and Project Coordination Office, PCO. When they listen to our presentation, they really feel yes, this is the way, they feel ownership after our discussion. Most agencies just show up and present the norms and working modality, our approach is different. We encourage them to continue what they are doing but improving the system in accordance with that they think is lacking. This project is focusing on the sustainability and governance of WASH!. When we talk in that way, they realize – ‘yes yes, there is this gap!’ Many organizations already constructed schemes and facilities, but very few constructions are working now. So there is very much agreement on the need of the governance system focus and sustainability. They feel that yes, that is the lacking part, but, that is not as easy as simply constructing the systems. How we will do the sustainability? ‘You are talking about sustainability and governance – how?’ There is not an easy way, but it is very relevant and we need to focus on this. The palikas very much agree but do not have much of an idea for how and need support. However, I am not saying that we are the experts and we tell them what to do, we need to explore the existing system and then strengthen that. And living and working in the communities, the palika representatives know more than us, so we need to find a good way to work together, which will require a lot of talking with them on how to strengthen the existing system.
That is my understanding for now.
What about challenges that you faces or foresee based on your time visiting the palikas?
Main challenge is the structure of the system. The decision making body will have to decide a lot and there is no proper mechanism right now; no WASH units or WASH management committees. Even after explaining this is how this will function, they do not believe it. When we explain how it will function and say that some structures may need to be created in the palika for planning of programme activities, but they just nod their heads but do not believe it yet. This gap in structure is the main challenge, if we can put structures in place that function, then it may be easy for the palika to plan and implement sustainable measures. This is part of the governance support.
Another challenge is that most want ‘one house, one tap’ in line with government policy, so a palika may feel their water scheme is not functioning if it is a community tap and they want it to be a yard tap, or even if all that is needed is 100 meters of pipes and new faucet. Our understanding of what they need to do themselves, what increasing service level entails and what is a functioning or non- functioning tap does not quite match yet and needs to be clarified to have a shared understanding when our team is on the field.
After these visits, do you feel like we have an idea of the situation in Karnali?
Despite having traveled many days in these 8 palikas, I have only had very little contact with communities. Karnali is geographically big and the districts are big and the communities are scattered. Visiting one community from another may take hours of travel. A small project team cannot do anything. We will need to work through the palikas with plenty of staff so that our activities really can reach each household. So if we create plans with limiting human resources and only suing existing human resources of palika, it may not be possible to have an idea of the situation. Palikas need to be more well resourced, both when it comes to capacity and the number of human recourses. When that capacity and human resources are there, we can reach the communities, even hard to reach and marginalized communities. Only after that will we have an understanding of what the situation in the communities are.
But I will say this, the hygiene situation is very poor in Karnali. Our project indicators are very focused on numbers regarding water and sanitation, but in reality the hygiene in Karnali is the most poor. My view is that hygiene should be the main component of the project. In 1990s the entry point for WASH projects was water, in 2010s it was sanitation. Now 2020 onwards, we should thin differently, focus on hygiene first, then sanitation, then water. For example, we cannot maintain hygiene due to lack of quality water, or if there are no sanitation facilities. A hygiene focus also allows focus on disability, those menstruating, elderly and so on, a focus on those who cannot access WASH services and so the hygiene is lacking. The majority already has basic services. This is more challenging but if we can move that way – I think that is the best way. This is my own idea, and when we have the whole team, we can discuss this and with stakeholders.
Having been on the road pretty much non-stop until today, when all introductory workshops are completed, what is the best and worst parts of field travel?
Best part is… what is the best part? (laughter) We came here in December, during snowfall time in upper Karnali. And this time I got to travel through those districts and see how people are living with snow… It is very beautiful for us and enjoy traveling, I reached Rara lake and traveled on snowy roads and all that is interesting. But when visiting communities it is a different story. I enjoyed a lot visiting those beautiful areas – but then seeing how tough it is for the communities it is hard, seeing people with limited access and resources (those with resources move south during these months, or even to Kathmandu), but those who cannot move…
For me, a difficulty is spending nights on the way with only sleeping bag, adjusting to the facilitates, or the lack of them, is tough for multiple days. Even the food… it is all a bit different than what we are used to. My children sometimes get jealous of my travels when I send them pictures of having seen snow for example, but I try to explain to them that traveling in the field might look beautiful in the picture, but is actually a lot of hard work.
Is there anything else you would like to say about SUSWA?
No previous project has focused on Karnali so this is a good opportunity to do so, as Karnali is quite behind on many measures. If we can contribute even a small portion, it may be a pleasure in our careers. This time I have also gotten the opportunity to visit new districts; Mugu and Dolpa. So now I have reached 65 districts in Nepal! I hope to have a very good and encouraging team and work together and show our effort.
- momo or dal bhat
- tea without sugar or tea with sugar
- waking up early or staying up late – I usually wake up at 5. This is a habit from my childhood, my mother would wake up early and ask me to fix my bed and so on, so I still do it. I usually do my morning duties and then I focus on study, either related to work or other for 1-2 hours.
- working in remote areas or working in accessibly areas – it gives happiness. Because if you talk with with people who live in accessible area, they seem too proud, or not easy to talk with, but when working with people in remote areas and they feel happy it makes me feel very happy, it gives plenty of pleasures to see smiles. In the city, people might not care, just see you as doing your job.
Pictures from Simkot and Sarkegad introductory workshop in February 2022 + the 1.5 day walk to get to Sarkegad from Simkot