CWS Asia learning exchange: spotlight on Vietnam

Ek Sothea | December 14, 2018

This blog is the third in a four-part series focusing on CWS water, sanitation and hygiene programs in each of four Asian countries where we work. (Read Part 1: Cambodia or Part 2:Myanmar if you haven’t yet!) This one focuses on Vietnam. It’s important to know that the acronym WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. 

Another action shot from the learning exchange, as one of our Vietnam team members leads a demonstration.

CWS teams from across Asia gathered in Cambodia last week for a learning exchange about water, sanitation and hygiene. I spent some time talking to each team to get their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in the sector in their country. I sat down with our team from Vietnam to talk about the ethnic minority communities who they work with. These communities hard to reach, high in the mountains of northern and northwest Vietnam.

The people here face challenges that are very similar to other vulnerable people across Asia: they drink unfiltered surface water and practice open defecation. That’s why our team in Vietnam has a program called Community-Led Total Sanitation, or CLTS, to help families address these challenges. Like so much of our work in the region, this program focuses on technical training and community information sessions that help change behavior in the long run.

We’re already seeing progress, my Vietnam colleagues tell me. The director of the Than Uyen District Health Center, a CWS partner, said, “Honestly, when CWS first introduced the CLTS idea in 2017 we did not believe that it could help us change from practicing open defecation to making and using sanitary latrines. But now – because you have stayed with us for detailed follow-up and extra to add to the pre-activity education and technical support – a some pioneering villages have become 100 percent open defecation free.”

Lo Thi Cay cleaning her new latrine.

The Vietnam team also shared a story with me from Na Dan #1 village. Like most of her neighbors, Lo Thi Cay lived in a home that didn’t have a bathroom. “For 20 years, my daughter, husband and I have gone to the stream for both bathing and toileting,” she told our team. “I didn’t like this as I knew, somehow, that it was not safe. But, we did it because we had no bathroom to use – not even information about a better way. But now, after CWS friends visited, my husband understood how to live in a healthier way, and he agreed to build a bathroom and toilet, which I am excited to have.”

The CLTS program has had some remarkable results. For example, there is a village where only 41 percent of people used sanitary latrines in 2014. By 2016, it was 100 percent and the community was celebrating its government-certified Open Defection Free status.

Today, so many more villages are on the same path – some with CWS direct support and others with government encouragement.

This photo is a throwback to August of 2014. In celebration of World Humanitarian Day, our teams from around the world submitted #TheWorldNeedsMore ideas. Not surprisingly, the Vietnam team said #TheWorldNeedsMore safe and sanitary latrines! Four years later, we’re still hard at work making this vision a reality.

That being said, the path to a completely open defecation free Vietnam is a long one. The World Bank estimates are that there are still 20 million people in the country who don’t have access to proper WASH facilities, including 6 million who still practice open defecation.

So, for as long as we the Government and people welcome us, CWS will continue helping Vietnam reduce these numbers and work tirelessly towards ensuring water safety and sanitation in all communities even if it takes days, each time, to reach far-flung villages … and many more years to reach them all.

Ek Sothea is the Grant Coordinator with the CWS Cambodia team. 

Read the final blog in the series: Indonesia and Timor-Leste!