Living with the Lack of Toilets in Gawai, Nepal

written by local expert Sophia Dingee

Sophia Dingee is a voracious Canadian-born explorer and cultural groover who has lived and taught at international schools in China, the Philippines and Switzerland, studied yoga in India and enjoyed all of the joys of the nomad life in between. She is currently nearing the end her stint in Switzerland and looking forward to what further grand adventures this life has in store!

Nepal is a country of many dimensions and exists on every traveler’s bucket list. If it isn’t on yours yet, grab a pen and get listening! The generosity and warmth exuded by the people, the rich culture, stunning scenery including 8 of the planet’s 10 highest mountains, and thrilling outdoor adventures which accompany a pilgrimage to this fantastic place; it is no wonder hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this mysterious and unique country each year.

Related: 10 Things I Didn’t Know Before Traveling around South East Asia

I had the fortunate opportunity to be one of those eager tourists in the autumn of 2013. With only three weeks to spend in Nepal, I decided to split my time between the small rural community of Gawai, just outside the Chitwan National Park and Pokhara, which was a jump off point for a week of solo hiking. During my stay in Gawai, I spent some time volunteering at the local school and exploring the local community, learning about their biogas systems and the way of Nepalese life amongst rice fields and dirt roads.

gawai nepal toilets
The female conglomerate of my host family who cared for me during my stay

I was perhaps most humbled by the gratitude the people of Gawai held for what, by western standards, would be considered limited blessings – love and support of family and friends, clement weather and healthy soil that yield nourishing sustenance, the opportunity to have an education, and the time to spend with those who are most important. The fact that many possessed so little, but were grateful for so much, was truly an eye opener for this extremely fortunate traveller. The adults I encountered were curious, interested, genuinely kind and generous toward this foreign stranger. Amongst the numerous children, smiles, laughter and barefoot playfulness were abundant. I cannot imagine a community more deserving of something so seemingly necessary.

Related: How Volunteering Abroad Can Change Your Life

helping nepal

While it can be difficult to implore empathy from an audience who may never have visited Nepal, or even another foreign country, I would encourage you to explore the Nepalese culture, or any culture that is different from yours. There is a great deal to be gained from opening your heart to those who are different from us. I look at my experience in Nepal as a great gift and feel as though I selfishly took from these wonderful people despite being there to try to give something to them.

In this community of approximately 300 homes containing families of 4-5 there currently exist only 10 toilets. Many of the inhabitants wander off into the jungle or the nearby river to relieve themselves. During my visit, a boy no older than 3 had crossed the dirt road to the stand of trees on the other side and was narrowly missed by an oncoming ox pulling a cart at full speed. Accidents such as these are almost a daily occurrence in this community, and often have far more deleterious outcomes than that which I witnessed. 

Read: 5 Unique Volunteer Placements around the World gawai nepal

This wonderful couple welcomed me into their meager lean-to they had called home for most of their lives together. Meals were cooked over a hole dug in the dirt where a small fire would be built. Despite what appeared at first to be a miserable existence, they welcomed me, a complete stranger into their home with the happiest faces I’ve ever encountered and years of smile lines and wrinkles to assure me that these were kind and decent people.  The woman spoke only Nepalese, and through translation, told me about seeing her son who had wandered into the nearby jungle to use the washroom only to be carried off by a tiger when he was a toddler.

gawai nepal toilets

While the threat of altercations with tigers is not as common due to excessive poaching, the swift current of the nearby river regularly claims the lives of young children who wander away from home during the day while their parents are working in the rice fields.

After my time in Nepal, I wanted to do more for the generous family who cared for me during my stay, and their neighbours, and so I launched a fundraiser to build a sanitary toilet facility in the community. After the success of the first fundraising attempt, and due to the continued need within the community, I am raising money again to provide another toilet to these people. This fundraiser is not a glamorous one; it is simply about providing a village of kind-hearted, hardworking and generous individuals with a basic human necessity.

Click Here to Help This Community Out

gawai nepal community

It costs approximately $1000USD to construct a latrine in Gawai. Any further funding will go toward the purchase of cows, goats and buffalo for families in the greatest need. I have remained in contact with my host family and receive emails every few months, always including an invitation back to Nepal. While donations are clearly the goal of this message, please at least consider giving what little or great time, money, energy, or even interest you may have, the next time you visit a foreign country or encounter those less fortunate. Those who are unable to enjoy the most basic of human comforts on a daily basis, while many of us are able to afford to sip cocktails on beaches during a two week tropical vacation.

toilets donated in gawai nepal
The finished product; results of over $1000 USD in donations in December 2013.

Support the Cause

Click Here to Help This Community Out

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8 thoughts on “Living with the Lack of Toilets in Gawai, Nepal”

  1. God bless you for reaching out and helping the Nepal people in so many beautiful ways. It sounds like your life and there’s has been enriched from your visit. Thanks for sharing your heart felt story.

  2. This is a great read, and what a great thing you have done. We take things like toilets for granted in the west, and sometimes it’s travel that opens are eyes to the world and makes you realize just how fortunate you are. On the other hand, as you said, these people are all smiles with kind hearts and warm faces – how could you not help! Thank you for writing this.

    • Thank you, Natasha. It is truly an eye opener to be around people who
      are so content with so little. I try to remind myself of how fortunate
      we westerners are on a daily basis!

  3. Reading things like this really makes me think about what you really need in life. Yes people absolutely need some basics, but spending time with family and having a sense of community are so important, and yet in the West we seem to have completely forgotten this. Best of luck with your travels and I hope you get to make it back to Gawai one day 🙂

  4. What an adventurous spirit you have and a kind-hearted soul you are! I wish you tremendous success in all your like endeavours to better the world for the less fortunate!

  5. That is so cool that you volunteered at a school in Nepal. Organizing a fund raising drive to help the community (for a toilet in this case) is such a powerful way to give back. Great for you.


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