Dr. Anita Alves Pena, Chair of Economics and Dr. Alex Bernasek, Senior Associate Dean, traveled to Seattle recently with their PhD student Niroj Bhattarai to meet with members of an INGO “Splash” headquartered there to discuss a possible collaboration based upon Niroj’s dissertation research.  Niroj studied factors affecting school attendance in Nepal paying particular attention to the availability of restrooms and clean water in schools on attendance by gender. Splash provides clean drinking water, hand washing stations and trash receptacles to schools in a number of developing countries including around 250 schools in Nepal.

Niroj, 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, Niroj helped raise money for the school. When he suggested using the money for books, pens, notebooks and other supplies, he was surprised when the head master suggested a more pressing need; gender specific restrooms. The costs of construction were greater that the money initially raised leading Niroj to partner with a local Rotary Club in Fort Collins to raise the additional money. He raised the money, built the restrooms and brought running water to 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 to the school.  Enrollment in the school increased substantially especially among adolescent girls. The project was documented in an article at Front Range, as was other support for Nepali school children after the earthquakes.

As Niroj began to read more on 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 due to menstruation. In order to study this in Nepal, Niroj developed and administered a survey at 7 schools in urban and rural areas in Nepal to look at the factors affecting attendance paying attention to gender. This survey became a foundation of his dissertation research at Colorado State University in the Department of Economics.

The meeting with representatives of Splash including its founder Eric Stowe was a valuable information sharing and brainstorming session.  Their on-the-ground experience was a great complement to the more academic research that Niroj and his dissertation advisors Alex and Anita are currently conducting. Among the things discussed was the difficulty of getting access to reliable attendance data in schools and going beyond attendance to performance and subjective evaluations of the school experience particularly for girls around menstrual hygiene.  The discussion was engaging and concluded with a commitment to exploring ways of sharing data and analysis to advance the cause of improving the experience in schools for boys and girls in developing countries.  The passion and commitment of the Splash team was inspiring, and for the researchers the meeting generated new ideas for future research.

Niroj Bhattarai will receive his PhD in Economics at the December Graduate School Commencement ceremonies. He intends to continue to be involved in engaged scholarship and service benefiting students in Nepal.