Currently we are working in Pre Veeng district, south east of Phnom Penh in a Good governance project working with local commune authorities. Rainwater Cambodia (RWC) has been involved in helping communities find solutions to drinking water issues for some years now and has also been involved in several sanitation projects.
The local commune council is being assisted by RWC to be more active and accountable to its community members and the villagers themselves are being encouraged to be more active in aspects of developing their community. One aspect the project is focusing on is in improving the sanitation and hygiene for the community.Currently open defecation is widely practiced and community leaders are working to encourage village members to purchase and use latrines. To satisfy this customer demand, rather than hand out toilets, which has proven to only increase dependency, RWC trains local masons or “entrepreneurs” to build low cost latrines and then teaches them about social marketing. The end result? Local masons with sustainable businesses selling products which help raise the health and prosperity of their community.
The local masons are trained in the construction of the different elements and assembly of a pour flush septic tank latrine. The latrines consist of a slab and pan (with a U bend water seal) a collection chamber, pipe and a cement ring septic tank which is buried under ground. The technology is not ground breaking in any way but the key to it is in the production techniques, enabling the masons to make many latrines per day, selling each one for a small profit.
Each part of the latrine is made from mortar, a combination of sand and cement which is poured into steel molds. Traditional rural concrete rings are made from a wet concrete mixture which is poured into the molds and left for half a day before the molds are removed by brute force. These improved rings are slightly thinner and made with a low water to cement ratio which gives a stronger mixture. The dry mortar is compacted thoroughly in the molds adding to the strength and allowing the molds to be.It was interesting times, first at the RWC office experimenting and training our technical staff to get the technique down pat, before taking it to the field and holding a four-day training session with the local masons.
The masons were all very enthusiastic to be learning new skills and production techniques, and after the theory sessions they were eager to get dirty and start mixing concrete. One of the ways a teacher can claim success is when the students improve at least attempt to improve on the methods being taught. During the training the masons were convinced they had a better way of making the chamber which would enable the molds to be removed much faster. I was so excited to see it, but unfortunately the cement just wasn’t strong enough for their “super fast”method, so we had to settle for the “fast” method instead. Still to see the enthusiasm and commitment from the local masons was awesome to see and I won’t be surprised when they do finally come up with improvements to the latrine production.
Four days (and lots of rice wine) later the masons were “certified” latrine builders and those that could afford to right away arranged to get molds delivered to begin construction.For this particular project the commune development committee members were acting as marketers, signing up villagers who wanted a latrine. Their encouragement was a few thousand riel per latrine sold, financial incentive for the committee to stay active after project support has finished.
The week finished with a stirring speech from the commune chief asking all the village chiefs to return to their villages and educate people on the health benefits of latrine ownership, and each village chief responded that they already had many people asking when the latrines would be ready to install….a promising start!