Plumbers Reflection – Bob Sheridan on Nepal

Bobbie Bayley quizzes colleague Bob Sheridan about the latest Sanitation Studio in Nepal.

Bobbie Bayley // Bachelor of Architecture graduate from the University of Newcastle
Bob Sheridan // Plumber // TAFE teacher // World Skills Challenge Silver Medal Winner

Local plumbing supply store in Nepal where all required materials are bought.

1. Did you have expectations before starting the Nepal Healthabitat Sanitation project?
Yes, I did come to Nepal with expectations. Firstly, I was expecting extreme cold weather as our Healthabitat organizer, Dave told us to expect zero. This certainly wasn’t the case though. Secondly, I expected similar plumbing conditions to Australia, I didn’t expect the areas we worked in to be so remote and the inconsistent and unreliable access to power.

2. What did you think of the multidisciplinary and inter-continental collaboration in these projects?
Arriving in Kathmandu, I didn’t know any details about the team I was to work with so didn’t expect a team of student architects on the ground working with us.
Once in the villages, It was great to have the architects on the ground to be able to quickly tackle the challenges which did arise and have them see the design on paper come to life and witness the everyday obstacles and challenges which come up on-site in a plumbing job. I found the experience brought to the project from team members of other nationalities, ie. Tony from America, was valuable to the project. In our plumbing team, Tony brought confidence in working with the materials I wasn’t accustomed to working with, and I brought knowledge of septic and soakage systems unfamiliar to American plumbing.

3. Did you have any realisations that you didn’t expect from your experience?
Yes, from being on the ground and working with locals I had many realisations. I didn’t understand for the locals in these villages how long their days are, it became clear that when every chore is by hand everything takes much longer. This probably explains why it seemed the locals were always so busy. Communication was quite hard between us and the local building team and so I came to realise that an effective way to communicate is through hand gestures. A different realization I didn’t expect to have was how much I enjoyed not having a mirror and bothering about your appearance every day.

4. Will you take any new skills, ideas or sweet plumbing tricks home with you to use in your plumbing trade, teaching or life?
Yes, I think I will take many lessons home with me to Australia. I would like to start being more resourceful, working with what is at hand rather than worrying about having the exact materials. Although it isn’t as acceptable in Australia, there was a refreshing lack of PPE used in Nepal, perhaps I could try digging in thongs for a change. A sweet trick I now have is knowing how to join PVC pipe together without a fitting…!

5. Will you work with Architects again?
Yes! The student architects in our team were great and in my experience, the interesting jobs are only with architects. I would enjoy to almost exclusively work with architects so I don’t have to work on any cheap houses again.

6. What did you think of the Healthabitat process?
It was really good to see and experience an organization with such a common-sense approach to such work; doing the work locally with what is available, encouraging us professionals to teach the local people the skills required to construct the plumbing and maintain the systems. When things go wrong there are not many options other than having the locals fix it, so it makes sense for them to have the education and skills. I can see longevity in these projects.