Field specialist in Nepalese Water Project
My name is Erik Salminen and I’m currently working as a field specialist in a water and development project in Far-Western Nepal. My wide variety of responsibilities include project management, communications and field monitoring.
I graduated from Aalto University with a master´s degree in water and environmental engineering in autumn 2019. My degree focused on water resource management, water diplomacy and sustainable development. During and after my studies I gained work experience in NGOs, ministries, academia and international organizations.
I ended up studying water engineering partly by chance when I was choosing a university course. I now feel that this field is my own and I’m glad of all the twists and turns that brought me here. Working internationally, on the other hand, is something I’ve wanted to do since I was little.
My journey to the world
I had some unforgettable moments abroad when I was young which fuelled my dream of an international career. I pursued this goal systematically, going on two student exchanges in Singapore and Panama, learning languages, volunteering in the water sector, and travelling and learning about different places and cultures around the world.
After graduation, I took my first big step towards my goals: I got an internship in an international water organization in Stockholm. That internship gave me some excellent insight into global water challenges and their potential solutions. While working, I realized that if I wanted to continue with these themes I needed grass-roots experience and practical familiarity from the field.
I took some time to weigh up my options and decided that it was the right time to look for consulting opportunities and leave the higher-level water themes be for a while.
From Turku Finland to Far-Western Nepal
Luckily, FCG had an open junior expert position that spring in Nepal. I applied and got the job. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed my departure, but I took advantage of the situation by doing remote work from my beloved hometown of Turku. That also meant I could spend some quality time with my family and friends. In January 2021, I was finally able to leave.
I’m a junior expert in the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP), which aims to improve access to clean water and sanitation in Far-Western of Nepal. When water services have achieved a basic level, the focus shifts to improving livelihoods and increasing local people’s water management capacity. At the same time, we try to improve the position of women and the disadvantaged.
RVWRMP has been under way since 2006 and is intended to continue till autumn 2022, when I will also return home. This means that I get to enable and witness the completion of the project.
Work in the office and the field
My duties in Nepal can roughly be divided into two areas: admininistrative and communications tasks in the office, and monitoring in the field. In my opinion, both are equally important and complement each other. They help me understand how a project like this works in practice.
In the office, I’ve worked on the annual budget and work plan and evaluated the project’s achievements through annual and semi-annual reports. As the project draws to a close, it’s also important to ensure the project is sustainable and can be drawn on in future, as well as to collect and record successful solutions and methods for both the beneficiaries and future projects.
The field trips are a perfect contrast to the office work. When we visit the villages, the data we gather is materialized as people, and I get a glimpse of the villagers’ lives. Without the field trips accompanied by local professionals, understanding the project structures and livelihood aspects would be difficult.
Memorable first field trip
I will never forget my first field trip. The winding country roads, stunning mountain landscapes and my first sight of the water structures supported by our project were impressive. But most of all I was immediately struck by the friendliness, hospitality and sincere appreciation of the locals.
I cannot think of a better motivator for this job than being welcomed into a celebration organized by a whole village. The villagers, from children to seniors, gave speeches and presentations to thank for the clean water the project made possible. We danced, sang and enjoyed ourselves in the local fashion. At the same time, it was clear from the community members that something significant had been achieved. In the midst of all this intense hubbub I was almost in tears. The locals’ appreciation, the achievements of the project and my own dreams being fullfilled: all happened at once.
Water is a basic need; that is what makes working with it so rewarding. Through water projects, we can support all categories of people, and cultural and political challenges do not dominate.
Much left to learn and give
My time in Nepal is already full of great experiences, but the counterweight to them is that the first few months were very hectic. Time has flown as I have learned new things, mastered broad areas of knowledge, and got used to the Nepalese way of life. There are still plenty of challenges, including ones due to the pandemic. A few months after I arrived in Nepal, the COVID-19 situation deteriorated rapidly, revealing the shortcomings in the nation’s healthcare and its government’s capacity for reaction. As I’m vaccinated, I have been able to keep working, but the situation in the project area is concerning.
I often remind myself that I’m here to learn, and that I do not need to know everything at once. The best way to learn is to take initiative, both in the field and office, and to listen to local experts who have worked with these challenges for decades. I’m particularly grateful for the fact that another Finnish expert is also working here, so I have had someone to bounce ideas off and ask advice of if I’ve needed to.
My adventure in Nepal has just begun, but I know I’m in the right place. My long-term dream of gaining consultancy work experience has come true and I’m now focusing on getting everything I can out of it.