Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Great leadership builds community spirit – with positive hygiene outcomes for everyone

By Chanthea Chaing 


School director Sim Mech talks about how to manage the school
and have a healthy, friendly environment
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Chanthea Chaing

Prey Veng province, Cambodia, December 2016: Preah Reach Meanchey is a rural primary school located on pagoda land in Baphnom district, Prey Veng province. With 318 students, including 152 girls and 29 preschool students, as well as seven teachers, it’s a busy place. Even though it is in a rural area, the facilities, especially water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities have been functioning well since they were provided with support from AEON and the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) in 2003.


It’s an impressive track record – but what is it about this school that has made it able to operate and maintain its facilities for more than 10 years?

The answer could lie with the school director, Mr Sim Mech, who has been in the role since 2010, after spending 16 years as the deputy director. Mr Mech has made a point of making sure some key Khmer hygiene messages are embedded into everyday life at the school. ‘Rosnov Saart’, ‘Phouek Saart’ and ‘Houb Saart’ mean ‘live in a clean environment’, ‘drink safe water’ and ‘eat healthy food’.

Before starting the new academic year, Mr Mech coordinates with the teachers and the school support committee to develop an annual work plan. They discuss and prioritize proposed activities based on the school’s needs, and come up with strategies.

The strategies include allocating the Government’s Programme Budget and School Improvement Grant budget, inviting parents and the community to join in the first day of term, and giving a presentation on the school’s work plan.

The director calls for ‘friends’ to support the school and talks about what the school needs during Buddhist celebrations at the pagoda. There is a ‘door-to-door’ school development programme, where Mr Mech and the teachers volunteer to go to each household and talk about what the school needs. They also sell mangoes from a few trees that grow in the school yard and direct the proceeds towards school activities. Mr Mech, the teachers and students planted the trees.

The budget and expenditures are recorded and shared during a school meeting. According to Mr Mech, this creates a sense of ownership and makes parents feel involved in running the school. The community and supporters always receive a letter of thanks for their support.

The school’s bathrooms are assessed to make sure they are clean and working well
©Institute of Technology Cambodia/2015/Un Sokcheng

The accounts, budget and expenditure are transparent 
©UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Chanthea Chaing


“The budget must be transparent, with clear targets and proof of purchases,” Mr Mech said. “That creates participation, involvement and support from teachers, the school support committee and the community.”

To make the most of the budget, Mr Mech, the teachers and students often do minor repairs around the school. Each Thursday is called School Labour Day, and everyone helps out. They pay for the materials themselves, and take advantage of Mr Mech’s construction experience for the labour.

The success of this school is a direct result of Mr Mech’s commitment and leadership.
“I had hardship when I was young, but I loved education,” he said. “That made me passionate about doing this for my community and the next generation.”

At the national level, only slightly more than half of all primary schools have access to water supply and slightly more than four fifths have toilets (58.1% and 85.9% respectively). These figures are not taken into account of functionality and cleanliness. With more school champions like Mr Mech in rural Cambodian communities, Cambodia will achieve its commitment of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2025, as stated in the National Strategic Plan for Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene 2014–2025.

In 2016, UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme, in collaboration with NGOs RainWater Cambodia, MuslimAid and BoRDA, and with AEON/JCU funding, has helped improve water and sanitation facilities and hygiene education in 123 schools in the three provinces of Prey Veng, Kampong Thom and Kampong Speu. This school, one of the 123 schools, received a 35 cubic metre rainwater harvesting tank, renewed six toilet blocks, and built two new toilet blocks and group hand-washing stations. It also educated students and communities about WASH, including the need to maintain facilities. As a result, under the leadership of director Sim Mech, more funding was mobilized from the community which helped transform the school’s WASH facilities into a healthy environment for the students.

New facilities provided in 2016 under AEON/JCU support in
Preah Reach Meanchey primary school
©PDRD Prey Veng/2016/Mao Chhunheang

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