Small change, big impact

Improving water and sanitation for school children in An Giang province

Nguyen Thanh Hien
UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

21 March 2019

Tran Anh Bao and Tran Anh Kha are filled with pride when recounting a story about something many of us take for granted. The brothers from An Giang province, located deep in Viet Nam’s southern Mekong Delta region, break out into a smile when pointing to their family’s new latrine and bathroom in their modest house. This means a lot to the pair, their sister and grandparents who now have the ability to flush away the threat of disease and stay healthy with safe water and sanitation facilities.

This is a dramatic change for the family, who until recently with no latrines at home in An Phu district’s Phuoc Hung commune, was forced to defecate in the open – either in the bushes or in canals.

Life changed for Bao and Kha and their family after the pair attended a UNICEF-supported triggering session at school to promote hand-washing and sanitary behaviours among children. Upon returning home, they insisted the grandparents - in their roles as guardians with the parents away working in Ho Chi Minh City – install a bathroom and toilet within the home. By tapping into their retirement pension and with a little help from the parents, the VND11,000,000 (USD500) construction cost was met.

Fifteen-year-old Bao and 11-year-old Kha are two of 15,000 children in the province since 2016 to have benefited from UNICEF-supported water and sanitation (WASH) interventions in 40 schools.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung
A UNICEF-supported triggering session at school to promote hand-washing and sanitary behaviours motivated 15-year-old Tran Anh Bao to become a WASH champion.

During this period, KAO funding has allowed UNICEF to renovate poor condition WASH facilities in 18 schools, with essential training on the operation and maintenance of facilities and hygiene promotion provided to 170 teachers in 40 schools. Importantly, in guiding students on properly using the facilities and handwashing with soap, children’s hygiene promotion teams are established in schools to help monitor and promote their peers’ WASH practices during break times. This helps children form healthy habits at school and become WASH champions within the community to encourage family members to adopt healthy behaviours.

This approach is delivering results, with 140 villages verified as Open Defecation Free (ODF) at the end of 2017 following Ministry of Health criteria, directly benefiting 220,000 people.

The An Giang WASH in schools and ODF village models have also been replicated in other UNICEF-focused provinces, with central government also engaged to strengthen efforts to improve water, sanitation and hygiene in schools and eliminate open deification nationwide.

This is important work as while more than 80 per cent of schools in Viet Nam have water and sanitation facilities, many are not fully operational or are in a state of disrepair - especially in hard-to-reach remote rural areas often heavily populated by ethnic minorities.  This is a barrier to promoting hand-washing and sanitary behaviours among children, particularly for girls of menstruating age. While Viet Nam has achieved impressive economic growth in recent decades, the country’s 26 million children have not benefitted equally from this new prosperity. In 2011, more than 15 million people practiced open defecation or used unhygienic latrines. An impact evaluation carried out in 2014 showed that only 13 per cent of people practiced handwashing with soap at key moments, and lower rates were found for poor households and among ethnic minority groups.

UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung
Eleven-year-old Tran Anh Kha (pictured top) shows his sister Tran Kim Ngan how to wash her hands with soap as learnt from UNICEF at school, while their family now benefits from safe water and sanitation facilities in the home.

To continue addressing these concerns, UNICEF’s interventions in 2018 will be expanded to Dien Bien, a northern mountainous province home to a large number of ethnic minorities and where an estimated 70 per cent of the population do not have access to sanitation facilities. With KAO support, the project plans to reach 35,000 children at 60 schools over a five-year period. 

“Support from KAO has clearly helped to improve the situation of water and sanitation in schools and the community in An Giang province. When the activities are expanded to Dien Bien, more children in need will benefit from this project. On behalf of Vietnamese children, UNICEF would like to express its sincere gratitude to KAO for its generous contribution to improving the quality of life for children and families,” said Nguyen Thanh Hien, a UNICEF Viet Nam WASH specialist.