© Helvetas

A WASH Entrepreneur Tackling COVID-19

FROM: Jane Carter, Madan R. Bhatta, Narjung Shahi - 11. October 2020
© Helvetas

In the battle against COVID-19, there are some winners and some losers – not simply in terms of health, but also in terms of livelihood. Fourty-year old Madan Kaphle is one of the winners: he has worked hard to turn his business into one that both contributes to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and runs at a profit.   

Madan was already running a well-established company, Karnali Engineering Works, in Birendranagar (Surkhet), when the COVID-19 pandemic began. When the Government of Nepal enforced a nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020, he was obliged to shut down his business just like everyone else.

«It became very hard staying without work; on one hand I don’t like to be idle, and on the other, I also needed to pay my bank loan, the rent of the office and workshop space, and the salary of my employees. Both my family members and those of my staff are dependent on my business. We stayed at home indoors for about three weeks without work, and life was becoming harder and harder»

Madan Kaphle, Entrepreneur

Meanwhile, Helvetas staff had been developing the idea of a pedal-operated hand washing station. “Helvetas Nepal approached me with their concept, and I was immediately convinced and motivated to fabricate the device according to their design. Different Helvetas staff members came to my workshop to discuss and guide us in assembling the hand washing station, so it was a joint effort. I supplied the first handwashing station to Helvetas for installation at the Birendranagar Municipality Office. It became so popular and appreciated by different people that I even read an article about it on national online media.

Later, the government also introduced more flexible working regulations related to COVID-19 that enabled us to operate with greater ease. The hand-washing station was recognized as being very useful and successful in maintaining sanitation and hygiene.”

© Helvetas
Helvetas staff guiding during the fabrication of the first hand-washing station © Helvetas

Initially, I did not think the scale of demand for this product would be as it is now. With its popularity and success, demand started coming from other organizations too. These include government offices, UNICEF, SNV, and NEEDS Nepal; all have replicated the product in their working areas. By end of June 2020, we had supplied about 400 handwashing stations to different international organizations (including 75 to Helvetas Nepal), and over 100 to various government offices and schools. These hand washing stations have been installed in public buildings such as hospitals, health centers and schools, as well as municipal offices, provincial ministries and even the Chief Ministers office, Karnali Province. There continues to be a lot of demand from various organizations and we have now also received a large order from a USAID funded project.”

© Helvetas
Principle Secretary-Chief Ministers Office, Karnali inaugurating hand washing station © Helvetas

For me, the best thing is that even during this pandemic and lockdown period, I and my employees didn’t have to stay at home without work, so we haven’t suffered from financial or mental health problems. While many people in the country and abroad have been forced into unemployment, I feel proud that my ten employees, including three women, did not lose their job. But it’s not only job retention and doing business, we also contributed socially in the fight against Covid-19 through the promotion of handwashing.  So far, I’ve made a turnover of over NRs 7 million [approx. USD 58,700] through the sale of handwashing stations. In addition, I’ve also fabricated beds for quarantine and isolation centers.  From this work, I’ve managed to pay off my bank loan and to buy 2 bighas [1.352 ha] of land in Tikapur, Kailali district.”


Working with Helvetas, the handwashing station has also been modified slightly based upon user feedback, and a variety of designs are now available: single bucket, double bucket with a disabled/child friendly tap, and a model with an additional bin for waste collection. Whilst the development of the first hand-washing stations was a Helvetas innovation in partnership with charity: water, orders are now coming from many sources. Madan Kaphle is justifiably proud of his company, and the contribution that he is making to improve hygiene and health in Karnali.

Madan R. Bhatta
Narjung Shahi