Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Water and sanitation facilities help improve life in a remote village

By Patricia Chourio

Poy Commune located in Ou Chum District, Ratanakiri Province
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Poy commune, Ratanakiri province: Can you imagine being chased by a wild pig on your way to use the bathroom? Or having to walk 30km to find clean water every time you were thirsty? It’s difficult to imagine, yet a few years ago this was part of the daily routine of the members of the Poy commune, located in Rattanakiri Province, home of the Kreung ethnic minority group.

In Cambodia, only 38.5% of the rural population have access to a toilet (CIPS 2013). People living in rural areas go through extreme measures to find a toilet. A few years ago the members of the Poy commune practiced open defecation. Parents were scared to send their children outside to use the bathroom because they were exposed to wild animals. Because they didn’t have access to clean water, children were often sick and they had no doctors available nearby. A visit to the doctor would take hours of walking and could be very costly.

Kang Kuy village is in the Poy commune, located roughly 30 km from the city centre of Krong Ban Lung. The road is unpaved for almost half of that distance. Members of this village have to manage to live with what they have around them. Because of their limited access to transportation, they rarely leave their community. In fact, some of the children in this village are facing difficulty to attend the state school due to distance. There is a small school in their village but only for the younger kids.

Dirt road leading to the Poy commune in Ratanakiri
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Although life has been very difficult in the past for this community, it’s all changing for the better and the future looks brighter. Two years ago, village members mobilized resources and raised enough money to build two wells.

In 2014, UNICEF Cambodia worked closely with the Provincial Department of Rural Development; in 2015 they brought Plan International, and local authorities to start programs to educate community members about the need for water and sanitation facilities. Members of the commune were very receptive, especially once they understood that the health of their children could improve if they had access to a toilet and handwashing facilities.

Mr. Tong Chhern, member of the Poy community smiles as he shows his house
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Mr. Tong Chhern, a member of Kang Kuy village in Poy commune lives with his wife and three children, the youngest is only six months old. He was one of the first members of the village to build a dry pit. He is a cashew nut farmer, the entire area surrounding this village is filled with cashew nut trees. Although, this is the main source of income for many of the families in this commune, the harvesting period for cashew nuts is very short and only lasts a few months of the year. Many of the members of the village like Mr. Chhern have to find other jobs to support their families.

Between the months of June and October, Mr. Chhern works on the rice fields. However, a long drought has affected the quality of the crops and many farmers are unable to harvest. “We have no choice but to wait and hope rain comes” says Mr. Chhern. Sometimes he goes to the village and tries to find jobs in construction or other farms around the province. If he’s lucky to find something, he could make up to $5 a day.

A girl from Poy commune takes a container filled with water from the pump well
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Despite all of these challenges, Mr. Chhern wanted to ensure his family and the members of his village had a better quality of life. The first step was to save money to build the dry pit, which cost him around $20. Then, with technical advice from the Provincial Department of Rural Development and the help of other neighbours, he built a deep pit. He then proceeded to help his neighbours to build their own pits; in this small community, everyone helps each other. “We just want our children in our village to be healthy and grow healthy” says Mr. Chhern with a warm smile on his face. Now, all the families in this community have access to adequate sanitation.

He has high expectations for his community. One of them is to upgrade from dry pits to pour flash latrines. He is very hopeful and acknowledges the improvement being made in a short period of time. “Diarrhoea cases are reducing because our children are healthier” he says. Additionally, there is a private clinic close to their community and they are now able to call the doctor in case of any emergency. “We used to have to walk a long distance to see a doctor and it was very expensive, now things are much better and easier for us” he adds.

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