Field Specialist Observations after Six Months in Nepal
Namaste! My name is Erik Salminen, and I joined the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) as a Field Specialist in August 2020. After some delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, I travelled to Nepal in January 2021. Since then, I was able to visit the project area extensively before the country experienced a second wave of the pandemic, restricting movement. The situation has gradually improved, which is great as the project has entered its final year of implementation and there is a lot of field monitoring work remaining.
I have a background in water and environmental engineering, but for the past few years I have mostly concentrated on "big water" themes, such as water diplomacy and transboundary water management. However, I have always known that to fully understand what is happening on a transboundary scale, I need to bring myself down to the grassroots level. Thus, I was overjoyed when I got the chance to join RVWRMP, fulfilling a long-time dream of mine. My primary motivation is to see how such projects work and learn to understand the realities in the field. I am bringing added value to the project through experience in project management and communications, but I also hope to contribute to whichever sectors and themes I am needed most.
After six months in Nepal, I feel like I have got a solid grasp of the project and its activities. My work is divided into management related themes in the Project Support Unit (PSU) as well as monitoring progress in the field. Both are equally important and complementary in my opinion, as management provides the big picture while working in the field helps appreciate concrete achievements and understand challenges.
Observations from PSU
Since arriving in Nepal it has been clear to me that PSU is a well-oiled unit. All staff members are working hard towards a common goal of improving the lives of working area people, despite hindrances caused by lockdown restrictions. I highly appreciate the presence of several familiar working values, such as diligence, teamwork, a lack of unnecessary hierarchy, equality in the office and courage to voice opinions.
Running such a project with multiple different sectors (WASH, Livelihoods, GESI, etc.) in a huge working area (ten districts in two provinces) with limited road or electrical access, is quite an undertaking. I believe that our successes so far are largely thanks to the highly motivated workers as well as efficient communications between PSU and field staff. Of course, there have been some hitches and sometimes things are dropped or forgotten due to more pressing work, but overall progress has been excellent.
Like all Finns, I believe the sauna to be the answer to most problems. Yet, here in Nepal I have learned to appreciate it even more. Our project (like all Finnish projects, as I have heard) has a sauna, which is warmed every Friday. In addition to providing a perfect antidote for homesickness it is a perfect opportunity for staff members from different ranks to spend time together and discuss things, be it work-related or something completely different. It is great to see how much local colleagues appreciate it and some have even resolved to build their own saunas once the project ends.
Observations from the Field
Field visits have provided a comprehensive understanding of how community water schemes are built and maintained. Monitoring on-going and completed schemes involves observing the quality of constructions and listening to all stakeholders to identify issues and opportunities for improvement. During field visits, I have also participated in GESI related workshops, livelihood trainings and municipality meetings. The primary objective of field visits is to ensure that work is progressing without major problems and that PSU has a good understanding of the overall situation. Monitoring needs to be done on a regular basis as it provides validation for releasing funds from donors.
In addition to the practical side, it has been a humbling experience to witness the appreciation that communities and municipalities have towards RVWRMP. Everywhere I have been, I have heard stories of how lives have improved through easier access to water and sanitation and how people have been able to stay at home instead of migrating, thanks to livelihood support. The impact is clear to see with many communities pledging to commit more than their required share to finish projects. It also says a lot on the trust that people have towards the project.
For over a year now, the world has been struggling with Covid-19 and our working area is no different. Due to hard work and perseverance from our project staff, RVWRMP has been able to function effectively through these difficult times. We are on track to reach our targets and even surpass them and for this I want to voice my appreciation for all our staff, as well as municipality staff members. It has not been easy to work far away from families and friends during these times, but they have endured and ensured the success of the project. Working with the people and for the people has surely been a big motivator and guided our way through the troubles.
During my first six months in Nepal, I have already gained a lot of insight into development cooperation. I have also grown to appreciate the importance of well-functioning teams in difficult conditions. A good lesson learnt is that projects such as this aren't supposed to be easy and there are no quick fix solutions. Listening to local staff and community members is critical, as they are the ones who really understand the situation in the field and have most probably already tried many different ways to solve challenges. The importance of talking about development cooperation instead of development aid has grown clear to me, as we really are all in this together.
The final year of the project is going to be full of work. However, after seeing the motivation of everyone from project staff to beneficiaries, I have no doubt that together we will achieve our targets and beyond. I am very thankful to my colleagues (and in fact, all Nepalis so far), as it has been easy to settle to life in Nepal and become a part of the RVWRMP family. Good luck to all for the final year!
शुभकामना मेरो साथीहरु!