Right now, there are 3.5 billion people still living without safe toilets. Because of a lack of sanitation, diseases spread among their families and communities, killing 1,000 children under the age of five every single day. This global situation poses a threat to half the world’s population and puts women, girls, and vulnerable groups at risk of harm.
Loun’s family falls within these alarming statistics.
Without the money to build a latrine at home, Loun watched in desperation as her husband, brothers, and young children repeatedly fell ill from poor sanitation. Their sicknesses required costly medicine and regular visits to local healers, putting a strain on family finances.
Loun’s family also lacked access to clean water, hand soap, and basic handwashing information. She describes their struggle, “I was really upset and worried. My children got diarrhea very often; my daughter got sick three times per month. We felt unsafe and afraid of snake bites when we left the house at night during the rainy season to use the ‘toilet’ in a forest that was far away from our house.”
They weren’t the only family in their village facing this problem. Before FH Cambodia partnered with Loun’s community, only 10 per cent of households had latrines! The other 90 per cent of families had to trek through the forest “to go” outside. This is a global problem—419 million people in the world still practice open defecation, meaning they have to find a place outside “to go” that is often unsafe and lacks sanitation and privacy.
To help families like Loun’s address these difficult issues, FH staff first equipped the community with “soft infrastructure” by facilitating health education and awareness campaigns focused on sanitation and hygiene. For example, they shared with people the practical reasons that building and using latrines could cut down on the spread of disease in their community. They also explained how, when combined with handwashing with soap, latrines could dramatically reduce the number of times a family gets sick each year.
And it worked—Loun’s community went all in! They began building latrines, reducing open defecation, washing hands, improving their waste management, cleaning up their environment, and getting connected to better health providers.
“FH assisted my community with mobilization and engagement,” Loun recounts. “Their staff also conducted home visits to enhance my family’s healthcare including equipping me to take care of my children when they got sick. But my children are not often sick like before! Their illnesses reduced from three times a month to just once a year! Now, they can go to school regularly.”
To increase community buy-in and the sustainability of health education, FH helped organize Cascade Health groups. Loun became a group leader and learned key health, sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition lessons from FH that she then taught to her health group of around 10 - 12 neighbours.
|Loun "cascades" what she has learned about hygiene by teaching her neighbours a lesson on hand washing.|
“Personally, I am proud of myself that I can share my knowledge with my neighbours on how to use a latrine and the importance of using it,” Loun says. “I also conducted home visits on antenatal care and prenatal care for six health group members every month and conducted cooking demonstrations with 15 group members every other month.”
Loun admits that it’s not always easy work. While many group members have put into practice what she teaches, some group members have chosen not to. But Loun’s not giving up. “I acknowledge that it is not easy to change them, but I still want to see my group members change in the future,” she says. Her family’s improved health is living proof for everyone to see that applying these changes works!
“To date, my community latrine access has increased up to 65 per cent!” she exclaims proudly.
Loun adds, “Following this, those who used to buy traditional medicine now use proper prescriptions or go to a health centre if they get sick. Most of those who used to drink unsafe water now drink boiled water or use a ceramic water filter, biosand filter, or buy safe water to drink.”
|Loun making a Cambodian cake for her family to eat.|
Your actions on this World Toilet Day, however small they may seem to you, can help families access desperately needed toilets and sanitation systems. You can help empower mothers like Loun with critical health and hygiene information so their children no longer suffer from chronic illness.
With just seven years left to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)—safe toilets and water for all by 2030—we need to work five times faster on sanitation to reach the goal, so let's do this!
|Loun, her husband, and their two children.|