Creating a healthier community in Cambodia

A young woman stands in front of her house

Phang Lab lives in a small village in northeastern Cambodia. Until recently, she and her neighbors had to defecate in the nearby forest.

“I was embarrassed to tell my guests they had to defecate in the forest when they asked to use my latrine,” says 27-year-old Phang.

To end this unhealthy practice, Plan International launched a three-year project with the H&M Foundation to create sustainable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene for remote communities in Cambodia. Plan works with girls, boys, local entrepreneurs, health clinics and local authorities to promote the adoption of clean water consumption, and hygiene and sanitation practices.

“One day, the village chief knocked on my door,” Phang says. “He talked to me about the risks of defecating outside, how it makes the community dirty and what diseases it can cause. He also talked about the importance of good hygiene practices and encouraged me to build a latrine with help from Plan International.”

Eight months after the project started in Phang’s community, it became one of three villages in the area to receive “open-defecation free” status.

“I’m happy and proud to see that every house in my community now has a latrine and there are no more people defecating outside,” says Phang.

Chief Dang is also proud to see the positive hygiene behavior changes in the village since the start of the program, but he is determined to carry on his work.

“I don’t take it for granted,” he says. “I still remind the villagers about using the toilets. I have been educating them to use their latrines, drink clean water and wash their hands with soap. Our health is getting better since we started to use latrines and drink safe water.”

Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene also improves school attendance among children, especially for girls, which means more children have improved chances of completing their education.

“I don’t know if others will go back to the forest to defecate sometime in the future, but I will never ever do it again,” Phang says.

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