Stories of Change

Ms. Ly Thi Dau stands in front of the latrine she built

Mrs. Dau’s Commitment Towards a Safer and Healthier Home

High up in the Vietnamese mountains is a village called Noong Ma, which is home to 43 hardworking families. These families are all part of the Kho Mu and H’Mong ethnic minority groups. Like many other minorities in rural communities, the people in Noong Ma face a number of challenges. Heads of households often travel far distances to find work, and community members face severe health risks due to a lack of hygiene and sanitation facilities. These issues are worsened as many families do not have their own latrines, which means people have to relive themselves in the forests and or streams.

CWS knew that the first step needed was open conversations with the members of the community. Through a series of community awareness sessions, community members learned about the risks of open defecation and the diseases that arise when latrines are not used. These sessions were taught in the native language of the community and helped the members understand the benefits of using and owning a latrine.

One of the eager participants at these community awareness sessions was Mrs. Ly Thi Dau, a 47-year-old H’Mong woman. Mrs. Dau lives with her husband, their two sons, her daughter-in-law and her grandson. After attending the sessions she shared, “now I understand the need to build a sanitary latrine and why my grandson has had stunted growth. It’s because he is infected with worms and couldn’t grow well.” After learning that open defecation likely caused her grandson’s health problems, Mrs. Dau told CWS she talked to her husband about building a latrine. While her husband was on board, neither of them knew how to build a latrine. They were also afraid that if they hired someone to build it for them, it would be very expensive. Many other people in the village shared this same concern.

In response, in October 2021, CWS organized a training session to teach the members of the community how to build their own latrines. Along with many of her neighbors, Mrs. Dau enthusiastically participated in the training. This training was led by CWS and their partners from the District Health Center and Commune Health Station. Together, the group built a sample sanitary latrine to learn how to build one of their own. “The training is easy to understand. I joined in digging the septic tank, and installing the mold to make the tank and the squat pan. Now I can do it myself,” said Mrs. Dau with excitement. She told us that immediately after the training, she and her husband agreed to build their own latrine. To Mrs. Dau and her family’s relief, the calculated cost was much lower than expected.

In order to build latrines in the most efficient manner, Mrs. Dau had the clever idea to reach out to five more families who had attended the training. The families included the Ly A Daos, Ly A Khays, Ly A Giangs, Vang A Phuas, and Sung Thi Tras. Together, the group collaborated by saving money, splitting the shipping cost of the materials and sharing the laborers they hired to assist them.

With their knowledge and commitment to improving the health and safety of their village, the group became a powerhouse. Officials of the People’s Committee and Commune Health Station provided the group supervision to ensure the latrines were built properly. Through hard work and dedication, the six families completed building their latrines by November 2021.

Mrs. Dau shared that before, “most of the village did not have latrines, so it was very difficult when there was a need for defecation. When it rained, the road was slippery, and it smelled bad.” She explained that “it was easy to run into others which made me feel very shy. Now that I have a latrine, my life is much better.” Mrs. Dau’s desire and commitment to a better life for her and her family is recognizable in her commitment to building her own latrine.

In its commitment to helping other families with this same goal, CWS reached out to the families in the other residential areas in the village. In these areas, training and the building of latrines were done in groups to ensure efficiency and collaboration, as Mrs. Dau’s team had. Little by little, each family has started building their own latrines and working toward an open-defecation-free village. Together, the people in Noong Ma are building a safer and cleaner village for generations to come.