Latrine is the ReasonBy Makara Eam
“I remember once, I suffered from bloody diarrhoea for three days and three nights in a row. I was 11 then and was extremely scared that I would die and leave my mother forever,” says Sophea, a 14-year-old from Svay Chek District, Banteay Meanchey Province in northern Cambodia.
Sophea lives with her mother and her 11-month-old brother next to her grandmother’s house. They all share a single toilet behind their houses. Before it was installed, three years ago, the family defecated outside, close to where they lived or in the bush. Other villagers did the same and they usually defecated in the area of a nearby lake which is the primary source of water for the entire community.
Sophea continues, “Before, I used to fall sick often and suffered vomiting and diarrhoea regularly. I went to the health centre a few times every month. I would often have stomach ache after eating. So I asked my mother not to send me to school.”
“It was not just her, I was affected too. We were often sick with diarrhoea and had to go to the doctor,” says Mouk Phos, Sophea’s mother.
Mouk Phos adds, “I used to spend around 120,000 Riels (approximately HK$230) for each treatment. My husband was working as a construction worker in Thailand and could only support the family with 5,000 Baht (approximately $1,250) per month. I could manage the household expenses with this kind of money only if we weren’t falling sick so frequently, but since we were getting sick three to four times every month, I had to borrow some money from an informal moneylender who charged a 5% interest per month, which meant 5,000 Riels for every 100,000 Riels.”
World Vision’s Community School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project has been running in Svay Chek since 2016. World Vision empowers communities to address the issue of open defecation in order to promote sanitation and hygiene, thus reducing the prevalence of waterborne diseases in the community and among primary school students. Thanks to the project, almost all families in the community now have their own toilets at home, and school children have stopped defecating openly after water and sanitation programmes have been included into the curriculum.
With a bright smile, Sophea says: “I am so glad that I have my own toilet now. I am happy that I do not have to travel far or in the rain. My family and I are much healthier and happier now.
Sophea’s mother adds, “It would have been more cost effective had I decided to build the toilet earlier because the money I spent on medicines and consultation was far greater than what it took to build a new toilet.”