Civic Champions profile – Sok Chantou
As a female commune councilor, Ms Chantou does whatever it takes to improve her community. She repeats the mantra “if you do it once and it fails, do it again and again until you succeed”. And she follows her own advice: one example is how she persuades people in her community to buy and build latrines.
Talking to people about buying a latrine can be socially taboo as it relates to faeces. Most are not convinced that the latrine is the most important tool in sanitation. She reports that many villagers say to her: “you are talking about shit again.”
People often ignore the importance of having their own latrine because they believe that defecating in the surrounding area or forest is locally acceptable and inherited for many years – like a tradition. Or many times they simply blame poverty by saying “no money”.
Chantou took it upon herself to change this attitude by knocking door to door, explaining to people about the risks of open defecation.
“If you have a daughter, are you happy to let her defecate in the forest? Aren’t you afraid of your daughter being bitten by poisonous creatures or raped? And if your daughter’s friends come to visit your home and you do not have a latrine, do you think they will come next time? Your daughter and your family will be looked down upon.” Ms. Chantou believes that a bit of social pressure can be used to convince people in her community to change their old practices. With these messages she believes people are changing their perception because they touch on important and sensitive issues.
Without funding from any source, Ms Chantou’s commune has made a dramatic change in latrine coverage. Many households have built their own toilets with their own money. Ms Chantou proudly declares that people in her commune did not get funds or loan from any institutions. “But, if we could get loans, we would built more” she noted. According to Ms Chantou, each full latrine including concrete shelter costs around one million riel (250 USD). “People are willing to spend because they want the best.”
After performance reviews by her peers, presentations and panel discussions, Ms Sok Chantou was voted the #1champion in the Civic Leadership programme at the Discover Conference (3) in Kampong Speu Province in May 2014. With this victory Ms Chantou and commune team receiveda gold medal, and Ms Chantou vows to continue her dream that every household will have a toilet by 2017.