Koushiki Banarjee: improving access to water and sanitation in India

The Jeroen Ensink Memorial Fund commemorates the life and work of Dr Jeroen Ensink.

Jeroen was an internationally-renowned water engineer and dedicated humanitarian who was a popular much-loved member of the LSHTM community. He was passionately committed to improving access to water and sanitation worldwide, including in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where children continue to die due to the lack of essential services.

The fund was established following his tragic death in December 2015 to support MSc scholarships for talented students from sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia to undertake an MSc in Public Health for Development.

In 2017 Koushiki Banaerjee became the inaugural recipient of the Jeroen Ensink Memorial Fund

I began working with organisations on public health issues from 2013, and prior to my studies my role was to develop the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) policy for the tribal Children of Maharashtra in India. I was part of the UNICEF, Maharashtra team, and from 2015 onwards I led the WASH project, developing an end-to-end program policy for Tribal Development Department, Government of Mahrashtra and worked closely with the Commissioner.

"I had wanted to study a Master’s in Public Health for a long time and I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to pursue an MSc that it had to be at LSHTM because the majority of studies I referred to in my work came from there. The ethos of the institution was something that completely aligned with my work. And when the time came, I only applied to LSHTM and somehow everything just fell into place."

When I received the offer from School, I was incredibly happy. But I quickly realised that I could not find the required funds to pay the tuition fees, or the cost of living in London. In my heart, I felt a desperation that I cannot explain. I applied for the Jeroen Ensink Memorial Scholarship but I felt that it would be a miracle to be selected from the hundreds of other applicants. When I received the reply to my application at first I thought it was a rejection, but when I read the word congratulations, I couldn't breathe for a second. I quickly read the letter and was screaming in joy. I sent the email straight away to my husband to confirm, as I couldn't believe my eyes. I felt pure joy that day.

"It was one of those rare moments you realise your life has changed, and for good. I am grateful to LSHTM for awarding me the Scholarship because I am dedicated to making changes in WASH policy of India and I will be doing it the best way possible because I have spent this year learning from the finest."

Koushiki Banerjee outside LSHTM, Keppel Street

On my first day I felt nervous, happy, a certain sense of pride all at the same time. My heart skipped a beat when I entered the revolving doors with the bronze nameplate reading London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. A distant dream for many people became reality for me. The international students were welcomed in the John Snow lecture theatre and from that moment I completely felt at home. It was very well organised and gave us space to match the rhythm of the School. To begin with I was overwhelmed, partly because I had been out of academia for seven years. It was a difficult time to take on the challenge of studies, try to maintain a social life, and deal with the distance from my family. But it was during this time that I found support in my MSc Public Health for Development friends.

In my second term Krystyna Makowiecka, my programme director, became my mentor, which has been a wonderful relationship that I will always treasure. She supported me, scolded me and helped me reflect on my learning, which is important in a complex learning environment like LSHTM. I am lucky to have her as my mentor and I count all the challenges I faced during this time as opportunities.

My passion lies in developing policy and supporting the implementation of India's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program and once I have graduated I hope to work with the Water Supply and Sanitation Department, Government of India, to create large-scale sustainable programs. It will be an interesting journey to fulfil the sustainable development goals around WASH. In addition to which I’d also want to gain programmatic experience of WASH in any African country. This will create a holistic work experience for creating impactful policy in future.

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