Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Water and sanitation bring good health and dignity to Cambodian school children

By Sam Waller

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
Pupils at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School, Phnom Penh, using their new handwashing station

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 10 June 2015  Birds chatter in the trees, but otherwise all is quiet at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School. The 400 pupils of the school, located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, are busily working away in class. Then, the clanging of the school bell. Break time! Pupils stream out of their classrooms in the direction of the school food stalls. But they actually head straight to the adjacent handwashing station, part of the school’s new UNICEF-supported water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. The pupils methodically work their way through six different techniques to get their hands clean  also known as the six steps.

Phyron Chandywa, a thirteen-year-old pupil in Grade Six, explains further. “Before we didn’t have proper handwashing facilities and I didn’t know how to clean my hands properly. Now I know the six steps.” Chandywa beams when she talks about the new school facilities. “The new toilets are clean and more hygienic. I’m very happy that we have these new facilities.” She has even taught her family members about the handwashing steps.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
Grade six student Phyron Chandywa is part of the School WASH Committee at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School, Phnom Penh
UNICEF and partner organization BORDA have also built a new toilet block here, complete with handwashing facilities and a natural waste water treatment solution. The necessary water is provided by a rainwater collection system, to be supplemented by piped water during the dry season. New water filters provide clean drinking water for pupils.

The entire school is very proud of the new facilities, none more so than the Chair of the School WASH Committee, Teng Soy. Mr. Teng is the local Village Chief and is proud of the changes that have been made. “I joined the committee because I wanted to see a clean environment at the school. Before, there wasn’t enough water for proper handwashing and no clean water for the students to drink. I felt sad to see children holding food with dirty hands. Now I see a big difference. I’m so happy and so are the teachers and students."

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
Pupils at Tekhak Panh Nhor Primary School, Phnom Penh, using new handwashing facilities

Across town at Shrae Nhor Primary School, another UNICEF-supported school, it’s an important day. The School WASH Committee is participating in training on how to maintain their facilities. The committee is made up of school directors, teachers, students and community members. The school director, Mom Chanthorn, is dedicated to ensuring that their bright pink toilet block is well maintained. “We have learned how to take care of the toilets. We understand the wastewater system and how to maintain it.”

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
The new toilet block at Shrae Nhor Primary School, Phnom Penh, including rainwater harvesting facilities

Ms. Mom explains the desperate situation the school’s pupils faced before the new facilities were installed. “The toilets were very smelly as there was often no water to wash away waste. The students didn’t want to use them but there was no choice. They had to collect water from a nearby pond.”

Not only can the school’s children now access clean water and safe sanitation, they are also playing a role in looking after the facilities. Om Somaly is a 13-year-old Grade Six student and an elected member of the Student Council. In her role as a student representative she is also a member of the WASH Committee. “My role is to make sure the school environment is clean and that soap is available in all the toilets. I assign groups of students to clean the classrooms and toilets. We all take turns.” Somaly takes her role as seriously as the rest of her studies. She is the third best pupil in her favourite subject, mathematics. She also has bold ambitions for the future. “When I am older I want to be an accountant, because I love solving maths problems!”

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
13-year-old Om Somaly is an elected member of the Student Council at Shrae Nhor Primary School, Phnom Penh

It is clear that the School WASH Committee is dedicated to maintaining their facilities for the use of future generations of pupils. Ms. Mom is delighted to reveal that they are the number one school of all of those involved in the project. This enthusiasm is also rubbing off on the students. The evidence? The pupils decided to sign a handwashing contract with the school, to show their commitment to following the good practices that they have learned.

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