Economics Ph.D. candidate’s research helps schools in Nepal, sparks NGO collaboration

Niroj Bhattarai, a Ph.D. candidate in CSU’s Department of Economics, presenting at Splash
Niroj Bhattarai, a Ph.D. candidate in CSU’s Department of Economics, presenting his research about school attendance in Nepal.

Story by Anita Alves Pena and Alex Bernasek

Splash logo on the doors of the Seattle Washington headquarters
Splash headquarters in Seattle, Washington

Niroj Bhattarai, a Ph.D. candidate in CSU’s Department of Economics, along with Chair of Economics Anita Alves Pena and Senior Associate Dean Alex Bernasek traveled to Seattle to meet with members of Splash, an international non-profit committed to providing clean water for children in poverty, to discuss a possible collaboration with Bhattarai’s dissertation research.

Bhattarai studied factors affecting school attendance in Nepal, paying close attention to gender and how access to a restroom and clean water impacted attendance. Splash provides clean drinking water, hand-washing stations, and trash receptacles to schools in a number of developing countries, including nearly 250 schools in Nepal.

Raising money for a cause close to home

Bhattarai, originally from Nepal, became interested in school attendance when he developed a relationship with a school in rural Nepal. Working with students at Front Range Community College, where he is chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Bhattarai helped raise money for the school. When he suggested using the money for books, pens, notebooks, and other supplies, he was surprised when the headmaster suggested a more pressing need: gender-specific restrooms.

The costs of construction were greater than the money initially raised, leading Bhattarai to partner with a local Rotary Club in Fort Collins to raise the additional funds.

Once the money was raised, the restrooms were built and running water was brought to the school. The water project also involved allowing people in the neighboring village to get access to water at a nominal cost that would cover routine maintenance and create a sustainable source of water for the school.  Enrollment in the school increased substantially, especially among adolescent girls. The project was documented in the blog Front Range.

Service as the foundation for research

As Bhattarai began to read more about the factors affecting enrollment and attendance in school in developing countries, he learned that one of the barriers to girls’ attendance in school during adolescence is access to restrooms, clean water, and trash receptacles for feminine hygiene products. To study this in Nepal, Bhattarai developed and administered a survey at seven schools in urban and rural areas to look at the factors affecting attendance, paying close attention to gender. This survey became a foundation of his dissertation research at Colorado State University.

Bhattarai’s recent meeting with representatives of Splash, which included its founder Eric Stowe, was a valuable information sharing and brainstorming session. Among the topics discussed were the difficulties of getting access to reliable attendance data in schools and performance and subjective evaluations of the school experience, particularly for girls around menstrual hygiene. The discussion concluded with a commitment to explore ways of sharing data to improve the experience in schools for boys and girls in developing countries.

Bhattarai will receive his Ph.D. in Economics in December 2017.  He intends to continue his involvement in engaged scholarship and service benefiting students in Nepal.

For future updates on this and other projects in the Department of Economics, please visit their website and follow them on Facebook. The Department of Economics is part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.