Cambodia: building one toilet at a time in collaboration with local government

Cambodia: building one toilet at a time in collaboration with local government

There is much to celebrate in Sasasdom, a small, low-income village in Cambodia. It is one of the villages in Siem Reap province declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the Ministry of Rural Development. This achievement is thanks to fruitful collaboration between USAID’s Integrated Nutrition, Hygiene, and Sanitation (NOURISH) project and Siem Reap’s Provincial Department of Rural Development (PDRD). The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) component of the project was led by SNV in Cambodia.

Before NOURISH started working in Sasasdom, most villagers were not concerned about hygiene and sanitation. They did not know about the negative impact that open defecation has on children’s growth and development. With only 40% of families in Sasasdom with a toilet, most people used to defecate behind the village’s bushes. Due to this unsanitary practice, the village became a breeding ground for bacteria. Diarrhoea was common among Sasasdom’s households. This was especially true for small children who were frequently falling ill. Families had to spend their meagre incomes on healthcare and medicine. Even families with toilets were affected because flies would spread diseases from one house to another. Other unhygienic practices exacerbated Sasasdom’s poor sanitation conditions. Mothers of infants were unaware of the danger of disposing babies’ faeces near their homes. Few people washed their hands before cooking or eating.

Change came to Sasasdom with the help of the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach and sanitation demand generation initiatives led by the NOURISH project in close collaboration with the PDRD. CLTS is an innovative approach to mobilise communities to eliminate open defecation entirely by creating demand for improved sanitation habits and infrastructure (like latrines). Through demand generation approaches, including door-to-door visits, etc. people in Sasasdom recognised the importance of good sanitation and hygiene practices, and felt motivated to build their own toilets.

Mrs Khuon Hort, Sasasdom Village Chief

Mrs Khuon Hort, Sasasdom Village Chief

Yet in some families, adults have migrated to work in other countries; leaving only the elderly, people with disability, or widows to take care of the children. These households didn’t have the know-how, tools and manual labour to build toilets. Even with so many new toilets being built by other families, this made the aspiration of making the village Open Defecation Free a very distant reality.

However, NOURISH continued with its post-CLTS sanitation demand generation activities. It engaged in door-to-door follow up and linked local government officials to the village to search for cost-effective alternatives to the problem. Determined and inspired by other villages nearby, the local village authorities and PDRD refused to give up. PDRD helped build six toilets for the remaining households by working side-by-side with village volunteers using bamboo, wood, plastic sheets, and thatch, which are easily available in the village. Mr Moa Lak from PDRD said ‘This was the best solution, and I was glad to help the vulnerable families get access to toilet facilities.’ And this solution worked. Now every home in Sasasdom has a toilet and is using it.

‘I am happy that my village has been declared Open Defecation Free and my people live in good sanitation and hygiene. We would not have made it without support from PDRD,’ said Mrs Khuon Hort, Sasasdom’s village chief.

‘If there was no PDRD support, I would still be practising open defecation,’ acknowledged Mrs Rav Samphors, a NOURISH beneficiary who is happy and thankful that PDRD helped her build a toilet, especially since her husband works overseas and she lives alone with her baby.

Sasasdom is one of 378 villages that benefitted from the sanitation demand generation interventions of the NOURISH project since 2015.

Written by: Sunetra Lala with input from Him Pao/SNV in Cambodia