Handwashing. We take it seriously!

July 7, 2016

Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director of Week of Compassion (right) practices handwashing in Cambodia. Photo: CWS

Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director of Week of Compassion (right) practices handwashing in Cambodia. Photo: CWS

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That definitely proved to be the case for Rev. Vy T. Nguyen, Executive Director of CWS partner Week of Compassion and Rev. Brandon Johnson, who recently visited CWS-supported projects in Kampong Thom province in north central Cambodia.

Vy and Brandon had the opportunity to meet people from a Bak San commune who participate in a Village Based Community Development project that focuses on food security and nutrition – that is, on having enough to eat and trying to help ensure that it is nutritious. The program, which is funded by European ecumenical partners Bread for the World (Germany) and the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, works with local communities to strengthen community-based organizations, local government partners and families.

During the meeting, people shared with both Reverends how their lives and communities have been positively affected by working with CWS. Community leaders explained that they have become more effective in their duties by using what they learned from CWS about responsible and open leadership and management – especially in encouraging the most vulnerable members of their communities to participate in activities that will help them improve their lives.

During his time in the field, Vy noted that “capacity building or education is a must in every component of program activities.” He cited examples of how to encourage parents to keep children in school and to complete primary school, at least. This goes beyond supporting the parents to earn more income so they can buy food; it also means working with teachers and leaders to help engage  parents and the children themselves to see the long-term benefit of education.

Vy was impressed with the savings group CWS had helped to form in the community to bring community members together to foster trusting relationships that support shared saving, especially to mobilize resources (i.e. microloans) for members’ emergency needs or household business expansion. Vy was impressed with the five saving groups in Prey Roleab village that have been formed, which are now strong enough to allocate some of their interest earning for social security and community development.

Vy was also interested in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – usually abbreviated WASH – educational training organized by CWS. In Cambodia, access to clean water is a serious challenge, and addressing it is a priority for CWS. As noted by the WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation, more than 80 percent of Cambodia’s people live in rural areas, and over 40 percent of those have no access to safe water. CWS staff have seen through our work at CWS that this lack of access to safe drinking water and latrines combined with poor household hygiene leads to many preventable diseases and health concerns, including a high prevalence of diarrhea, which is a major contributor to malnutrition and illness in young children.

To help families and communities address these challenges, CWS provides families with materials and supplies to build biosand filters, a simple household water treatment device that decontaminate water. CWS also provided biosand filter training to community WASH focal persons. Vy was impressed that a simple $70 US filter can effectively cleanse water for up to 30 years, and he thought it definitely made for a good investment.

In one part of the VBCB project, school children regularly take part in health education classes for all members of the community. One of the highlights of Vy and Brandon’s trip was learning the six steps of proper handwashing, an integral element in healthy, hygienic living. Vy was even put on the spot with a question and answer session on hygienic behavior!

At the end of the visit, Vy expressed his appreciation to CWS colleagues for their commitment in facilitating, coaching and monitoring several development programs for better living conditions in Cambodia. He is excited for the future collaboration between CWS and Week of Compassion that will help more Cambodians learn about WASH essentials to improve their health and wellbeing.

Isaree Khreusirikul is the Cambodia Country Representative at CWS.