There are more than 2,000 families living in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, and there have never been adequate toilet facilities. Many villagers are too poor to build them, and the problems caused by the lack of hygiene have resulted in many deaths and much sickness, residents say.
Until recently, many Kien Svay residents supported themselves through farming. But now it is cheaper for residents to buy rice and vegetables from Vietnam, and the farming industry has declined drastically. Much of the money in the community is now earned by men working as motorbike taxi drivers in Phnom Penh.
Em Siphan, who has been the watch officer at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh for seven years, decided he wanted to help his community. He has been a resident of Kien Svay since 1993, and has seen the lack of sanitation result in an increase in such diseases as typhoid and diarrhea.
“I have no money, so I thought I could not help my people. I have only an idea,” he said.
Em Siphan spoke to a friend, and she helped him write a basic proposal outlining the sanitary situation in Kien Svay and a possible means of alleviating the problem.
He took his proposal to several companies in Phnom Penh. Paul Blanche-Horgan from Telstra decided to sponsor Siphan’s plan for toilet facilities. The donated money will allow Siphan to build 40 toilets in Kien Svay.
“I began by listing the costs involved in building one toilet,” Em Siphan said. “The total cost of one toilet is $25.50. This includes the costs of concrete, bamboo, rice bags, palm leaves, nails and wire, and labor involved.”
The “demonstration” toilet built by Em Siphan will become the prize in a lucky draw he has organized to persuade the villagers of Kien Svay to attend an educational meeting.
“They will come to the meeting and listen to information about hygiene if there is a prize,” he explained. “Ten to 20 families will also win a toilet, and then others will see how good it is for the people who can use it.”
The education program includes information on how to build and maintain the facility, and also covers basic health issues.
Em Siphan has four volunteers from Kien Svay who will help him build the toilets with the money from Telstra. He says the cost per toilet will drop below $25.50 because residents will provide some of the materials, such as rice bags and palm leaves.
“These toilets are very important. They will save lives,” Em Siphan said.