- Job title
- Alumnus and founder of Help for Optimism
I completed my Masters in Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering at the University in 2017. Since graduating I have returned to campus to talk to current engineering students about my mission and the project I’m carrying out in Madagascar through the Help for Optimism (H40) charity.
I first visited the Madagascan island of Nosy Komba in 2011. The stunning scenery, biodiversity and warmth of the people drew me to return. But it was soon clear to me there was a need to improve basic sanitation. For my undergraduate dissertation I designed a sanitation programme to build household toilets in a sustainable, replicable manner. I knew my work in Madagascar couldn’t end with my dissertation though, so I founded Help for Optimism (H40), a non-governmental organisation which aims to contribute to the resilience and development of vulnerable communities.
In the last couple of years three Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) engineering students have written dissertations about H4O projects and had a direct positive impact on our work.
I studied my Masters at Leeds to develop my competency as a WASH engineer. I chose Leeds because of the school’s reputation and because the programme leader, Professor Barbara Evans, is a world-renowned expert in sanitation, hygiene and water services. The empirical approach of the course also fitted well with my pragmatic mindset.
The scope of H4O’s work has grown a lot since we started. From our initial focus on sanitation projects, we developed a hygiene products lab, which produces the first toothpaste made in Madagascar and sold in the local community and a disinfectant soap, supplied to medical staff at a local hospital. We’ve also run hygiene workshops in schools and we’re producing bio chocolate bars from raw cocoa beans. Three pillars underpin all our projects: improving health conditions, expanding local skills and competencies and creating economically sustainable enterprises. We want to take a longer-term, global development approach, which leads to long-term improvements for the community.
During my Masters I received a cash grant from the University’s Leeds for Life Foundation, and H40 was named its volunteering project of the year for 2016. Both these things helped to build the profile and momentum of the work.
The charity also had international recognition and won the Student Big Ideas Award at the WASH Futures 2018 Conference in Brisbane. My former professors accepted the award on my behalf and I came to Leeds to collect it.
Now I hope to return to the University to study a PhD, which would be based on H4O’s work, but would also extend it, so our learning would be helpful for development projects elsewhere.
When I talk to current students, I tell them, if you’ve an idea and passion, develop this. Gain specialist knowledge and you can turn it into reality!