Recently, I had a chance to spend some time with Bong Thi Chieu, who is 38 and a member of the Thai ethnic minority group in northern Vietnam. She lives with her family in Na Dan 2 village, and we met during my monitoring visit to see how she and her neighbors are doing in transitioning from practicing open defecation to using sanitary latrines. Chieu’s husband, their three children and her aging mother-in-law live in a Thai style raised house, which has no latrine, so the family used the fields, woods or stream, like all others in the village, instead of a sanitary, safe toilet. Then, in 2014, when her mother-in-law could be no longer go very far from the house when she needed the toilet, Chieu used some of her savings to buy bricks to build a small roofed space closer to the house for an unsanitary latrine, which was just a hole in the ground. Besides being unhygienic, the latrine smell bad too. So, even though Chieu’s intentions were good, her lack of knowledge about the basics of why and how to build a safe, sanitary latrine led her to make a really unhealthy situation for her family.
Chieu is by no means alone in her lack of information which, if she had some – combined with some basic education and practical training – could have helped her invest her savings and time more wisely. So, one of the first things that CWS team members did when we were invited to work in Na Dan 2 in early 2018 was to get together with local health workers to help raising people’s awareness about sanitation, especially how open defecation and improperly built latrines are harmful to people’s health. In Chieu’s village, after several meetings, there was community consensus to try to become open defecation free, and to be certified as such by the local Government. And, after detailed explanations of latrine options and technical training about how to build a latrine, plus support from me and other CWS staff, I am happy to say that many people were inspired and motivated to have sanitary latrines using one of the affordable models promoted by NEW IDEA. This is our signature project in my country, which we implement with support from one CWS member, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
I am happy to say that Chieu had some additional savings from her pig and chicken raising profits to build a proper sanitary latrine. “The new latrine is very clean. It is close to the kitchen, so it is convenient for my mother-in-law and the children. And, because it has a proper design and construction, there is no smell!”
Tran Van Thang is a Project Officer of CWS Vietnam
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