No woman or child should risk death, disease or rape when having to go to the bathroom. Vietnam´s journey towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal nr 6 (clean water and santation) is an important one. Approximately 17 million rural Vietnamese people lack access to proper sanitation facilities. Through building sustainable markets to transform women and girls access to sanitation in rural Vietnam, we will promote gender equality, empower women and reduce child mortality.
Vietnam, Tien Gang 2016.
I'm standing beside a hanging latrine at the home of Mrs. Tam. She is a grandmother and the caretaker of her two small grandsons. The primitive hanging latrine, which is located above the water beside her house, looks unstable and the waste pipe goes straight into the water. A solution that is not sustainable - neither for the environment nor the water resources.
Mrs. Tam is weaving by hand - beautiful bamboo carpets. It takes her 10 days to complete one carpet and when she sells, she earns 2 USD. Buying a toilet costs 160 USD. It does not take too much imagination to see how difficult it is to prioritize that kind of investment.
Despite Vietnam's recent macro-economic gains, water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases continue to limit improvements in health and socio-economic development, particularly among rural communities. Limited sanitation services are a leading cause of pneumonia and diarrhea, which account for nearly one-third of deaths among children under five-years-old. Water and sanitation hygiene behaviors are inter-related with poor nutritional status of rural children and women--a reality that is particularly relevant in Vietnam where approximately one out of every three rural children are stunted.
Canica Foundation has teamed up with the global health NGO PSI, which has developed a project that will increase the use of hygienic sanitation among low-income families in rural Vietnam. PSI is present in 65 countries globally and has a staff of 9000 all working towards better health outcomes for women and girls.
I believe strongly in creating sustainable solutions for lasting impact. Coming from a business and retail mentality, working with companies and consumers every day, I trust the opportunity to apply the same principles in tackling these challenges.
During this three-year intervention, we aim to increase demand and investment in sanitation through behavior change communications, training and partnering with sanitation entrepreneurs and masons in addition to manufacturers to develop affordable products. By integrating gender into this intervention's design and implementation, PSI will ensure that sanitary toilets meet the unique needs of women and girls, striving for gender equality in the decision-making, planning, and management of sanitation household services. It will generate critical results and lessons to help the Government of Vietnam, PSI, and other stakeholders identify successful strategies to increase last mile rural sanitation coverage.
The project has formed a dynamic partnership with Roto commercial plastic tank manufacturer, following a market analysis that indicated low rural retailer and household access to this tank option. Roto simplifies toilet installation due to its lighter weight and waste-processing technology.
On my recent visit to Vietnam, I met with the owner of Roto, Mr. Than at his factory in Can Tho. Mr. Than is a passionate business owner and our discussions around ideas on how to make the Roto tank more affordable and accessible to rural families made me even more positive towards the partnership and also how it is creating an opportunity to boost the local economy.
On my way through Tien Gang, I stopped by one of the Roto retailers. Ms. Nga is a hard working businesswoman who is selling mostly tiles for building construction. After receiving PSI support via a Roto product show conducted on site, and training of masons affiliated with her store, she raised her sales from 0 to 12 tanks the month before I visited. The social marketing activities developed by PSI are without doubt contributing to the growth of her small business.
I'm frequently taken back to the vision of Ms. Tam´s hanging latrine, which is vivid in my mind. The water below is brown and the smell is strong. The construction of the toilet reminds me of an old broken hanging bridge. As a widow taking care of her two grandsons and living off of what she earns, weaving bamboo mats or doing other small jobs, Ms. Tam cannot afford commercial latrine prices. PSI is piloting a flexible payment term which may help her and others in the same situation.
I turn around for just a second and through the small trees in Ms. Tam´s backyard I see someone behind the leaves. There is a woman, maybe 40 years old, sitting down in position ready to relieve herself. Not in the hanging latrine and not in a toilet, but in the middle of their habitat and in sight of all the neighbors and children running around.
Did I mention dignity?
I'm a member of Maverick Collective, an initiative of PSI. Maverick Collective members partner on PSI programs to tackle critical challenges faced by women and girls through innovative projects to develop game-changing interventions, that government and businesses can´t advance on their own. Members are working shoulder to shoulder with a global community providing proof for solutions that radically impact the lives of girls and women in the most undeserved parts of the world.
Find out more at: www.maverickcollective.org and www.psi.org