How An Open Defecation Free Evaluation in Pokhara changed the lives of Perth students

Written by Zachary Rowbottom, UWA second year Population Health major.

A Population Health field trip to Pokhara, Nepal.  A trip of 7488km, anticipation, vast unknowns and great excitement, several months in the making. Students from The University of Western Australia along with two lecturers, Professor Jane Heyworth, and Dr Julie Saunders, travelled to Nepal with the intention to assess the impact of an Open Defecation Free Program in Pokhara-Lekhnath, a beautiful city of Kaski District. However, what we received was much more: valuable international health education from both Nepali students and leading professionals, real life exposure to issues regarding sanitation and hygiene in a developing country, and lifelong friendships.

UWA students about to board a flight to Pokhara from Kathmandu

From the onset of this journey, it was apparent this would be a life changing experience. Nepal holds landscape like no other we’d seen before. Imagine real life Jurassic Park: jungle, hills, lakes. However, past this beauty lay a troublesome landscape for living and health practices.It quickly became obvious to us that things we took for granted in Perth were not as easily performed here. Water is a resource we’d never thought twice about, but in rural Nepal; how do you get clean, sufficient water to the top of a hill, with no road? And if there was a road, it was too dangerous to travel on due to the monsoon season causing frequent landslides!

View from field work in Begnas area

We had to eagerly wait two days before being able to begin our work in the field and find answers to our newly developed questions. The collaboration with LA Grandee students was vital to our study. With their help, UWA students could check questions for cultural appropriateness and ease of translation.

For me, working in a group of four with two LA Grandee students made the trip so special. This allowed for a truly multi-cultural experience and allowed us to develop strong relationships. The students were so knowledgeable about health issues in Nepal and speaking to them was incredibly enlightening and inspiring.

Students from LA Grandee International College and the University of Western Australia bonding beside Phewa Lake

Interacting with the people of the Pokhara-Lekhnath municipality area was the highlight of the trip. Interviewing on what some may call an embarrassing topic (Open defecation), all the participants were more than happy to be asked probing questions such as ‘where do you and your family defecate?’ and did so with a smile. I was surprised by the amount of knowledge the women had about diarrhoeal diseases, and their ability to quote that open defecation can lead to Cholera, E.coli and in general an unhealthy environment. There was a real sense of community, as participants not only wanted a safe and hygienic space for themselves but also for their family and neighbours. It was also interesting to hear that even if people did not know the Kaski District had been declared Open Defecation Free, they still strongly believe the practiceof Open Defecation to be outdated, not only for health reason but also it was embarrassing and cause shame, hence societal norms have been altered.

Further, having the opportunity to speak with world leaders in water, sanitation and hygiene, such as Han Heijnen and Finnish representatives from RWSSP-WN,along withthe extensive local knowledge from, Nirmal Adhikari and Gajendra Pun of Kanchan Nepal, provided us with a health professional view on sanitation practice in Pokhara, as well as a glance at where our passion and knowledge could lead us.

There is a lot of research and work that needs to be done in Nepal with regards to sanitation, hygiene,adequate access of clean drinking water to all, and attainment of Sustainable Development Goal Six – Ensure access to water and sanitation for all, but I am positive with the fresh young graduates of LA Grandee International college and the determined people of Nepal, great things are possible for the land locked Himalayan Country.

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