Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Community members lead the way to promote healthy practices

By Patricia Chourio

In Preah Vihear province, located in the north eastern part of Cambodia, a district leader, a community representative and a local entrepreneur have joined forces to raise the standards of living within their community. From building affordable toilets to creating awareness about hygienic practices, these three members of the Thmey commune are committed to improving the health of their neighbours, especially children.

Improving quality of life one toilet at a time


Mr. Chorn Vanna building a toilet pan
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Mr. Chorn Vanna, 37 years old, is a local entrepreneur from Preah Vihear who is running a successful business building affordable toilets for his community.

He grew up watching his father doing construction work and learned to build septic tanks and toilets at an early age. People in his commune had no access to toilets and would practice open defecation regularly. That’s why in 2005 he decided to launch his business with the hopes of improving the quality of life of his commune members and his family.


Mr. Vanna learned to build toilets at a very early age from his father
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio
Mr. Vanna with his wife and children
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Mr. Vanna is the proud father of five. The family lives in a stilt, wooden framed house near the main road of his village. Every day he wakes up at 6am to make sure there’s enough water for his family and for the business. He buys purified water for his family weekly and uses water from the pond for his business.

Once everyone is awake they enjoy breakfast together and proceed to their daily routines. His business is located in front of the house which makes it convenient for him as he works very long hours. The surrounding of his house is filled with construction materials, tools, boxes and the occasional chickens roaming around.

In Cambodia, 61.5% per cent of households in rural areas don’t have access to toilet facilities. This proves to be a threat for the health of children living in these areas, exposing them to illnesses such as diarrhoea and malnutrition. In order to lower this percentage, UNICEF Cambodia has partnered with the Ministry of Rural Development, Provincial Department of Rural Development and members of the private sector, such as Mr. Vanna, to educate members of this community about the dangers of not having proper water and sanitation facilities and what to do to prevent the spread of diseases.

The Provincial Department of Rural Development and the Community leaders facilitate hygiene education sessions to members of the commune regularly. Each session entails: hygiene education and engaging small group discussions followed by door to door visits. Every month more members of the Thmey commune are adopting safe hygienic practices. In fact, between 2014 and 2015 the sanitation coverage in the target communes has increased significantly.

Concrete rings for septic tanks built by Mr. Vanna
 © UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

The faces behind positive behavioural change

Ms. Sao Sophy and Ms. Yim Vanna are members of the Thmey community whose role has been instrumental in the community education activities. They both work tirelessly to create awareness in their community about the benefits of building toilet facilities. These two women embody the concept of girl power. They are committed to making a change in their community. They dream of a bright future for the children in Preah Vihear.

Ms. Sophy is currently the Community Led Total Sanitation champion; her community involvement expands for over 10 years. She first became Village Chief in 2006 and served for six years. In 2012, she was appointed her current role as a member of the Commune Council for Women and Children responsible for protecting the rights of women and children who have been victims of violence in her commune. She is also the focal point for environmental sanitation in the community. 

Ms. Sao Dophy and Ms. Yim Vanna washing their hands
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

As part of this role, she holds meetings with locals to educate them about sanitation and hygiene specifically: the dangers of open defecation, and how to boil water and wash their hands properly. Her work doesn’t stop there though as she ensures to make time to meet with the families individually. She listens to their problems and addresses them, she encourages older children to be role models for the younger ones.

Ms. Sophy’s ideal community is one where everyone has an equal chance to a healthy life. In order to achieve this, she knows there is a lot of work to get done. But she believes her community is moving in the right direction. In the past two years over 60 per cent of the households in this community have built toilets. Additionally, in the last three months nearly all villages of the commune were claimed open defecation free.

Ms. Sophy collaborates with Ms. Vanna, Deputy District Governor, frequently. With support from UNICEF Cambodia and a strong collaboration with the Provincial Department for Rural Development, they continue to raise awareness by educating members of their community, working closely with other commune leaders to ensure everyone is involved in the improvement of the community. They believe that in order to create change they have to start within themselves.

“If I want someone to wash their hands properly, they have to see me washing my hands properly” says Sophy. She smiles and adds “you have to lead by example in order to get people’s support”.

While Ms Sophy and Ms. Vanna focus their efforts on creating demand for safe water and sanitation, Mr. Chorn Vanna supplies adequate sanitation products to the community. Due to the increased demand for toilets thanks to the awareness raising activities, Mr. Vanna has had to hire additional employees. He says that in the last two months he had sold over 50 toilets. In one day they can build up to 4 rings (usually people have two or three rings per tank) and 2 toilet pans. The total cost of a toilet’s underground parts can be approximately $65 including transportation to the house.

Although his business has grown exponentially in the past few years, Mr. Vanna faces one big challenge: making a profit. Some of his clients are unable to pay him on time and since he wants to try to help them, he is left with no option but to install the toilets and wait on them to come back and pay him. That is why during rainy season he takes on a second job at the rice farm.


In the future he wants to hire more workers and expand his business to other communes. When asked about his plans for his children Mr. Vanna’s eyes lit up “I want them to become teachers and doctors” he says with a shy smile. “But it all depends on them, I just know I want them to have a great life and be healthy”.

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