I'm Tanvi Rajeev and I attend the Singapore American School. I've been working with children in Cambodia for a number of years and recently I volunteered in a medical hospital called the Referral Hospital Oddar Meanchey Province in Samroang – a small town in the Northwest of Cambodia. The main concern for the doctors here was a lack of hygiene; most people didn’t wash their hands, drank dirty and untreated water and didn’t brush their teeth. This led to a majority of patients being admitted for, and even dying from hygiene related diseases, such as gastroenteritis.
I talked to the hospital doctors and school directors and concluded the best way to combat this would be targeting school children and teaching them basic hygiene habits. I managed to convince Mr Nuth Ya, country manager of Greenway Cambodia, an NGO active in the area, to be my local partner. We decided to involve teachers in local primary schools in Samroang to teach the students the importance of washing hands and brushing teeth. We will raise funds to buy resources such as a water tap for the schools, toothbrushes, and soaps. Hopefully, these habits will become second nature to the kids, and through them, to the rest of the Samroang community. (Read below for full story)
Target three primary schools in the town:
- The Greenway School – 460 students
- Samroang Primary School – 1200 students
- Donken Phneat Primary School School – 730 students
- Teachers educate children about washing their hands after using the toilet, after playing outdoors, and before eating their meals. Also about the importance of brushing their teeth twice daily.
- Make attractive posters about washing hands and brushing teeth and put them up in the schools and hospitals to remind people to keep up with these habits.
- Provide resources: transportation for teachers and volunteers, toothbrushes, soap, water taps.
- Implement this through repetitive questions by the teacher and light-hearted activities and competitions to get children excited about following these simple habits.
- To provide incentive, at the end of three months we will have a dentist come in to examine the children's teeth. Prizes and certificates will be given to the children with the best oral hygiene. Classes will be assigned a bar of soap and there will be ongoing inter-class competition to see which class can finish the soap first.
The cost of this project is estimated as S$2000. This would cover buying toothbrushes and bar soaps for the children of the three schools as well as cover transportation fees for Greenway staff to make weekly trips to ensure that teachers are enforcing these basic hygiene habits. In addition, it will cover funding for the dentist, posters, and prizes.
I will return to Samroang with the funds in mid-June and put the plan into action. I will buy the soaps, toothbrushes, toothpastes and competition prizes from the village itself, to give an impetus to the local business there. At the end of a year, Greenway and I will review the success of the project and see how it can be improved further to increase chances of its sustainability and longer term impact.
Hopefully, we as a community can all come together and help the young, enthusiastic children in Samroang. Any donation would be filled with gratitude and be extremely helpful in creating a healthier community there.
Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns: @[email protected]
This is a project I came up with while volunteering in a medical hospital with my mother in Samroang – a small town in the Northwest of Cambodia. Dos Samroang means Clean Samroang as the word ‘dos’ means clean in Khmer, the language spoken in Cambodia. ‘Dos’ is also Spanish for two and as the project mainly deals with keeping two hands clean, I thought the name was appropriate. While volunteering at the local hospital in Samroang called the Referral Hospital Oddar Meanchey Province, I realized the vast majority of children and many adults were admitted for gastroenteritis or ‘gastrono’ as the doctors and nurses referred to it. They told us that it was a huge problem in the province and some children had even submitted to the illness.
This was very disconcerting for me.
A problem like gastroenteritis should be easily treatable, most of the times preventable and certainly never fatal.
The doctors themselves were concerned. They said lack of hygiene was a huge problem in the area. Most people didn’t wash their hands, drank dirty and untreated water and didn’t brush their teeth, although this is a separate issue and not related to gastrono.
One of the directors at the hospital said, “Yes, people know that they should boil the water or filter it before they drink it. Sometimes they have to travel far from their homes and then they have no choice but to drink whatever water is available. But in most cases, no matter how much we tell them, they just don’t care.”
“They just don’t care?” this refrain really resonated with me and it was at that point that I decided I will care. I will do something about it.
Drawing on my own experience growing up in Singapore. I remember how as a primary school kid, proper hand washing techniques was drilled into us to prevent viral infections like Hand, Foot and Mouth, which was particularly prevalent in the early 2000s. I would follow the taught procedure to the ‘T’ and would even lecture my parents and aunty in the proper hand-washing technique. That’s when it occurred to me that the doctors were targeting the wrong age group to teach hygiene.
The importance of washing hands and brushing teeth should be inculcated in young children in school itself. These habits would then become second nature to the children as they grow up, much like it has become with me and my friends. More significantly, young children will be able to influence other family members and friends just as I had once done. In this way, a ground up approach may have better results.
Realizing that I can’t work on my own as I am a full-time High School student, I spoke with Mr. Nuth Ya, country manager of Greenway Cambodia, an NGO that works with the community in Samroang and supports a school in the area. He agreed that the children could do with some basic lessons in personal hygiene and that we could involve the teachers to help make this work. Together we came up with a simple, low cost, and easy to implement project that we would first test out in three schools near the hospital. If that is effective, the plan is to scale it up organically.
What I really like about this project is that it is simple, low-cost and has the potential to become self-perpetuating. For instance, once the hygiene reminders become a habit with the teacher they will do it as a matter of course. And, once the competitions become regular and well-known the children themselves will prepare for it with enthusiasm. The hope is that ultimately, the children will get used to having clean hands and fresh breaths, they will want to do it for themselves.