"I am a champion for my community"
Ms Chanty knows in her heart that the health of her community will improve if they are able to change their behaviour towards drinking clean water, using toilets and washing their hands with soap. She is so determined to drive this behavior change that even after working as a Commune Councilor for 16 years, she is still looking for new and innovative approaches to make this a reality.
In Pongro Commune in Rolea Bier district of Kampong Chnang, Chanty and her team have tried almost every method they know to improve the livelihood, health and well-being of their community. One of the things that concerns her the most are the local practices of sanitation and hygiene.
“One of the challenges in my work to promote sanitation and hygiene is that people here have limited knowledge on handwashing with soap. Some people do not know when the critical time to wash their hands is and some are aware but do not practice due to different reasons such as there being no facilities,” Chanty said.
With the slow progress of villagers in picking up new knowledge or adapting new practices of healthy behavior; Chanty registered to join a leadership development and competition program run by WaterAid in early 2018. This program, called the Civic Champion Program, gave Chanty and her fellow trainees an opportunity to learn crucial skills such as facilitation, persuasion, communication, team work building, and leadership skills. As a motivational tool, the registration fee of $30 USD was divided up and refunded to selected trainees once they graduated from the program so that they could use the funds to practice implementing the activities they designed during training.
After in-class learning, participants were required to put those skills into practice in their targeted community. Three months later, they gathered back to present the results from their implementation as part of a competition. As part of this program, all Commune Councilors set and aimed to reach agreed targets for increases of toilets in their communities through their promotion and leadership skills. If one Commune Councilor joined the program, their toilet target was 50; if two Commune Councilors joined, their toilet target was 90.
At the end of her training, Chanty finished in first place, receiving the gold medal for reaching her target. Moreover, she was voted to be the most inspiring leader from the fellow Councilors. Touched by this support, Chanty decided to share her awarded grant to all the village leaders and her colleagues.
“They helped me to reach the target and win the competition so as a good leader, I must share with them,” said Chanty. “I am a Champion, together with my team, for my community!”
The learning did not stop there. Chanty continues to be actively involved in different activities for learning, including going on an exchange field trip. During this, she met with other Commune Councilors that had succeeded in helping their communities drink clean water, stop open defecation, and begin washing their hands with soap, and was able to share these experiences with her team back in her commune and village.
This training and field trip inspired her to think creatively in her leadership role. For instance, she was confident enough to share an affordable handwashing station idea with her colleagues and village chiefs. Once they all heard about it, they agreed it was a good idea. It took her over a year to finally have the confidence and the right leadership approach to explore creative solution and make that dream come true. The day that first handwashing station was in her hands, she thought to herself that this would help her community have handwashing facilities at homes and improve their health.
“I think this low-cost handwashing facility is very helpful for my community, especially the poor families. They can afford to use it because it has a very low cost. It costs around 12000 riel ($3 USD) and it saves water so they can have a handwashing facility at home and they are healthy as well,” she said.
It is a very practical and affordable option because the materials for this handwashing facility can be bought in the community and the installment is not difficult; women and elderly people can make it. Through her promotional activities, seven families have already started making this facility. Moreover, the families told her that children completely change their behaviour now as they like washing hands with soap during critical times, as introduced by Chanty and her team.
Chanty has a vision for her commune to reach full coverage of sanitation, handwashing with soap, and drinking clean water. She is committed to explore innovative and affordable solutions using the skills set she has learned from the WaterAid Civic Champions Program, and hopes to achieve her dream of a healthy community.