Sophea’s Story

Clean water and hygiene education improves school performance

My name is Sophea. I live in Svay Rieng province in Cambodia with my mother, father and older brother. Every morning I wake up at 5 o’clock to start my chores and help my mother before school starts.

Each morning, I am responsible for doing the dishes and the laundry for our family. I hang up our laundry to dry and when I get home from school, I take it down and put it away. I am also responsible for helping my mother water the vegetables and for sweeping our yard to keep it clean.

Before breakfast, I make sure our BioSand filter is filled with water so we can have clean, safe water to drink for the day. My mother and I make breakfast for the family. Today, my grandfather is here with us because my father has traveled to another district to build another family a new house.

After breakfast, I get ready to go to school. I change into my uniform, comb my hair, and get my school bag loaded into my bicycle.

Today is a special day. One day a week my mother gives me money for school fees, alms for the monks, and a little money for me to spend.

On the way to school, I stop at my friend Srey Lang’s house and we ride to school together. My school is a 4 km (about 2 miles) bicycle ride from my house.
Before school starts, we help clean up the school yard, by sweeping and picking up leaves and trash that blew into the school yard over night.

At the start of each school day we line up for exercises, songs and announcements. As one of the older girls, it is my responsibility to help one of the classes of younger children line up and to help them with their exercises.

When it is time to sing, students take turns leading the singing. Today, it is my turn to lead all of the students in our songs. We sing our national anthem, a Buddhist song of worship, and our hygiene songs.

We started singing the hygiene songs two years ago when our school got the new water filter from Clear Cambodia. Our school also received a new latrine building and a hand washing station. Now our school has enough toilets and we all have a place to wash our hands.

Before we got the filter at the school we had to drink the water straight from the well and I often had a stomach ache or diarrhea. Because of this, I often missed classes and my parents had to spend money from our small savings to take me to the doctor and to buy medicine to make me feel better.

Clear Cambodia trained our teachers and provided posters and books, so our teachers could teach us how to have good hygiene and take good care of our bodies. I learned to always drink clean water from the filter, and that washing my hands with soap kills germs. I also learned to always use the latrines when I need to go to the bathroom. All of these things help me stay in school and help my family save money when I don’t get sick.

After our singing, we go to our classrooms and study.

We get 2 breaks each morning. During breaks, some of us have chores to do, like sweeping the school yard and tending to the school garden. Often, you can find the younger boys playing marbles in the dirt on the playground. I like to jump rope with my friends and play soccer between classes.

Our school has changed a lot in the last two years. Students are sick less. My friends and I are able to come to school regularly and we are getting better scores each year. We all have water bottles and can drink as much clean water as we want. In between classes you can always find children filling their bottles from the filter in the middle of the school yard.

My classes this year are math, science, geography, history, art, and Khmer language. Khmer language is my favorite class.

“I really enjoy school and I want to be a Khmer language teacher when I grow up.” — Sophea

Sophea’s principal Mr. Chan Sam An says that the school’s performance has made big improvements after installing the water filter.

The school applied for the Bio-Sand filter, latrines, hand washing station, and garbage incinerator in 2014 and received them in March of 2015. The school had to contribute the materials for a shelter to protect the filter and the labor to construct it. They also had to contribute the water tank and its support structure to hold water for flushing the latrines.

Clear Cambodia also provides Principal Chan with a complete hygiene education curriculum – complete with handouts, posters and guidebooks for teachers. Clear Cambodia has also developed songs to help the children remember good hygiene habits.

The school currently has 1006 students. Half of the students go to class from 7:30am to 12pm and the other half attend class from 1pm to 5:30 pm.

In 2014, before the filter was installed, the school had a daily absence rate of 7.5%. In 2015, after the filter was installed, the daily absence rate dropped to 5.0%. In 2016, it dropped to 3.5%.
The amount of students who complete the requirements and move on to the next grade has gone up as well, with the installation of the fixtures and implementation of the hygiene curriculum. In 2014, before the program started, the pass rate was 79% over all of the grades. In 2015, it rose to 82%, and in 2016 it rose again to 85%.

The surrounding communities have noticed the changes and recently, families have begun to move into the district so that their children can attend Principal Chan’s school.

Principal Chan attributes these changes to the access to clean water and hygiene education that Clear Cambodia has provided in the community. He says that access to clean water and community hygiene education reduces the financial strain on families as well as the community. It does this by preventing diseases that take away productive work and school time and reduces the costs families pay for hospital bills.

By educating the students on good hygiene they are able to educate the community. Because of the health education that the children are receiving, most families in the community have now built a latrine for their own family’s use, and most have also invested in a home Bio-Sand filter to clean their drinking and bathing water at home.

“The most important thing we have is our health. If people have good health they can do anything.” — Principal Chan