Families Find Homes at PM’s Public Toilets

Hol Vuthy said he worked closely with First Prime Minister Ung Huot during the leader’s election campaign.

Two months after Ung Huot’s party Reastr Niyum lost in the July 26 elections, Hol Vuthy continues to work for Ung Huot: living in and taking care of the men’s side of the public bathrooms the prime minister donated in June. Also living in bathrooms are Hol Vuthy’s children, wife, two other families and a constant flow of migrant workers.

The number of cyclo drivers and workers seeking shelter from rain in the public stalls

be­hind the Hotel Renakse has drop­ped recently, Hol Vuthy and other toilet residents said. Mun­i­cipal police have started clearing people out of the water closet at nights, they said.

But even now, on any given night, about 20 people sleep in both the male and female sides of the restroom.

Chan Saron and her eight children have been living in the women’s side of the restroom since it opened. The family’s clothes are inside the bathroom and drying on a fence nearby. Holding a stick broom, Chan Saron says she likes her job, for which she gets paid about 45,000 riel ($11.80) per month.

“The work is just like being a housewife,” Chan Saron said.

Besides keeping the five sit-down toilets clean, she said she char­ges people 200 riel to use the bathroom. She collects about 3,000 riel a day, money that goes back to the municipality.

Behind her, one of her eight children scooped up a plateful of lotus stew and rice. The small ceramic stove and a pile of wood sitting next to the restroom serve as the family’s kitchen.

A long piece of plastic tubing from the sink winds its way outdoors—and family members fill buckets for cooking and cleaning. Before entering, people leave their shoes outside the bathroom.

Chan Saron says she cleans up and prepares the bathroom for Sundays and holidays when she knows her five stalls will have more visitors. She said she is going to do a lot of cleaning up in preparation for November’s Water Festival when visitors are expected to flock to the waterfront and watch boat races.

The toilets were meant to be a first step toward Ung Huot’s goal of eliminating public urination. Last year, in Si­ha­noukville, the first prime minister said the outdoors practice was de­stroying Cam­bodia’s image.

“This problem is small, but it has deep significance for the image of Cambodia to be respected internationally,” Ung Huot said.

Hol Vuthy said proudly that money collected from toilet fees is used to fix lights that illuminate a plaque from Ung Huot.

“The money from the toilet fees goes straight into a box to fix up the bathrooms,” he said.

“I take care of this gift from Ung Huot.”

(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha and Saing Soen­thrith)

 

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