Sofia Helin investigates how taps and toilets can create lasting change in Cambodia
Star of The Bridge and WaterAid ambassador Sofia Helin visited North Eastern Cambodia, to see the transformational effect clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene have on communities.
The trip was a far cry from the cruel world of crime that her character is used to, and Sofia witnessed instead incredible passion and determination. "You have to get the people to work together with the organisation, and make the improvement themselves, in order to keep it in the long run", explained Sofia.
Her visit to a village, school and nearby health centre showed Sofia just how important working alongside local people is in finding long-term and long-lasting solutions for clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. This is one of WaterAid’s key areas of work, because behaviour change at a community level is so important in making sure services stay effective.
A chief’s hopes for his village
The village of Kampong Pnov lies next to the bank of the Mekong River. Mr Ngem Chaim, Kampong Pnov’s chief, knows they need clean water, but at the moment they drink water collected from the river without it being treated. This can really harm children's growth and development in particular, something Sofia noticed.
"I can really see that clean water and toilets could really help this village to improve their health. I saw several children who were so small and underweight because of lack of nutrition."
Often linked to having no clean water or decent toilets, stunting (being shorter than average for your age) affects one in three children under five in Cambodia.
A teacher’s dream for her students
Not having a decent toilet is a problem that affects one in three schools around the world, including Kampong Pnov’s primary school.
The children have to go to the toilet in the nearby forest, which is not only undignified, but can be dangerous. Rom Rachana, a teacher at the school, told Sofia that she’s worried animals will hurt the children.
This isn’t her only concern. Because there’s no clean water in the school, Rom Rachana sends pupils who come to school with no water back to her house, so they can have something to drink.
Rom Rachana said “I have a dream that this school will have lots more water and toilets.” She, like Mr Chaim, knows clean water and toilets would help keep pupils safe and healthy.
Inspired by meeting such a dedicated teacher, Sofia reflected "what's also so hopeful is that the teacher I met…she is so passionate about teaching the children about things in school, but also about for instance washing their hands and drinking clean water, so that was really a joy to me.”
A health centre proud of its progress
Things are already improving at the nearby Muong Reav Health Centre, which caters for over 10,000 local people. Alongside the World Health Organization, WaterAid gives the centre technical support to make sure they keep reaching national hygiene and sanitation standards.
"They have learned some very important things about hygiene, which means now less people are coming with infections and things like that" Sofia said of the health centre staff.
Sofia also said she now realises just how complex it is to help people in a way that is sustainable. It isn’t just as easy as putting in a toilet or installing a well. She explains that “you have to find a way to motivate the people to maintain it themselves”, which is something that’s plain to see in the staff at Muong Raev.
“I will keep improving,” said Sokunthea Kim, head of Muong Reav Health Centre, “I will learn how to discuss with my staff so that we can improve more and our health centre can be more developed.”
Sofia is hopeful that with WaterAid’s help the people of Kampong Pnov will soon have clean water and decent toilets, just like their neighbours. “[It] can really change their whole life for them, especially when it comes to their health." It will mean Rom Rachana's dream for her students can become reality, and they can spend more time playing and learning safely like children should.