Taking Sanitation for Granted

I’ve been in Cambodia for several days now and, so far, everything has been an adventure. My host, 2019 YSEALI Fellow Phoeurn Chanarun, and I visited two Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) that are trying to bring good sanitation and hygienic behaviors in remote communities located north of the country near Thailand and Laos.  Their focus is to give people an opportunity to live in an open defecation free environment, especially at the schools.  Arun and I spoke with Mr. Hang Hybunna of Plan International (PI) where he shared with us their goal to reach 600,000 boys and girls and their families having sustained access to safe water supply service, practice good sanitation and hygiene behaviors and live in a hygienic environment by 2021.  Looks like PI is on the way to hitting their goal as they have reached 500,000 boys and girls.  Then, Arun and I talked to Khin Seanghak, one of Arun’s former students, and Marc Gloekier of Caritas Switzerland about their Blue Schools Program, which is very similar to PI program that brings water, sanitation and hygiene in rural communities.  Caritas is constructing latrines for schools and they’re making good progress, but there are still 56 schools that do not have any sanitation facilities, which means children are defecating anywhere they can.  It’s hard to fathom that we’re in the 21st Century and there are so many places in the world that do not have basic sanitary conditions like a toilet.  I wish my family and the people back home in Southern California could have heard the challenges Caritas and PI face as they try to bring good sanitation and hygiene conditions to rural communities.  To hear stories how children have to hold it all day while in school or girls dropping out of school after reaching menstruation due to lack of private sanitation is hard to imagine, but it does happen in Cambodia.  We take our sanitation for granted with every flush we make and we don’t realize how fortunate we are to have the best sewer systems in the world. Even though my hotel room in Phnom Penh has a flushing toilet the waste goes to a septic tank and when the septic tank is pumped out where do you think all the wastewater goes?  That’s right, in sewer canals and lakes where many people live because Cambodia does not have a wastewater treatment facility.  So, the next time you flush your toilet in the U.S., consider how lucky you are to have a sewer system that protects the health and well being of you and your family.

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