Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bringing safe water to school children in Cambodia’s rural areas

By Dominique Dufieux

Ravuth with his friends drinking clean water
© Teuk Saart 1001

Ranuth Run, 9, lives in Trakoun village in Kampong Cham province. He lives in a traditional medium-sized house with his father who works as a driver for a private company, his mother who works as a tailor, and his two siblings. Ranuth is in Grade 2 at Puthekaram Elementary School, around 500 metres from his home. He is a gentle, hardworking child who likes to play games with his friends and wants to be a musician when he grows up. Every school day, Ranuth rides his bicycle to school, where he has access to safe drinking water.

Ranuth’s school receives free bottles of filtered water through a project implemented by the NGO, Teuk Saat 1001, with support from UNICEF. The 20-litre bottled drinking water is processed at a water treatment system established by the NGO as part of a project which assists communes in establishing businesses to treat water, and package and sell safe bottled water to rural communities.

The 20-litre blue bottles are sold to people in the community at a modest price of 30 cents each for refills (the initial cost is US$4 for the refillable water bottle), while green bottles are delivered for free to schools, such as Ranuth’s school. The different colours ensure that the water is only consumed in schools and not sold elsewhere.

“Before, I used to get sick a lot and I had to skip class because the water I drank wasn’t clean. I used to go to houses near the school to find water. But now we have clean water in my classroom, and I feel healthier!” Ranuth said.

Ranuth said his parents often had to call private physicians to their house to treat him whenever he got sick.

Cambodia’s school environment is not always conducive to children learning, for various reasons, including poor maintenance of facilities. The availability of clean drinking water, toilets, areas to wash hands and hygiene education are major elements that affect the quality of education in schools. Children in schools without adequate water and sanitation facilities are more likely to suffer from diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which can result in them missing school or dropping out all together.

Ranuth plays at school with his friends.
© Teuk Saat 1001

This project, which aims to improve access to safe drinking water in communities and schools, is implemented in four provinces: Kandal, Kampong Speu, Prey Veng and Kampong Cham. With support from UNICEF, Teuk Saat 1001 worked closely with the Ministry of Rural Development, Provincial Department of Rural Development and local authorities to establish new water treatment kiosks in 60 different communities, benefiting both the communities and the schools. With low prices, high quality water and convenience, the communities support this project. The social entrepreneurs and their assistants who are working on the project are happy to be part of it. They can earn extra income for their family while being a part of social improvements in their community. The team at Teuk Saat 1001 ensures the programme continues to run smoothly through monitoring the quality of water and providing technical support.

Ranuth’s father, Sarun, says he feels happy that Teuk Saat 1001 provides safe drinking water to the school children. His parents encourage Ranuth to take an empty bottle to refill with safe drinking water at school. “It’s good to have clean water at school so that children can be healthy and don’t get sick,” said Sarun. “If I can afford it, I want my son to complete university. But if not, I want him to learn to play music because I love music too.”

*The author is the Deputy Director of NGO Teuk Saat 1001

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