A globally famous American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” and this belief is shared by Mr. Chea Chhim, a Commune Councilor and WaterSHED’s sales agent in Peang Lvea Commune, Odongk District, Kompong Speu Province who has inspired his team of leaders to seek a better world starting from “Toilet”.
Elected to be the Commune Councilor since the first election in 2002, 57 year-old Chea Chhim was approached by SanMark team in 2009 to team up with the local supplier Soeung Sokhorn as the commissioned sales agent due to his popularity, interest and responsibility in the commune dealing mostly with health and environment matters. In fact, Mr. Chhim was one of the few leaders in his area to advocate for the use of toilet even before the project started.
“At that time, it was difficult but not impossible to persuade people to use toilet,” he said, “but it was a matter of time and effort because the key is to follow up very often, but I don’t have enough time. So I thought if I had a team of committed leaders, my commune could achieve ODF much faster.”
Peang Lvea Communes consists a total of 18 villages and 1,630 households, and 508 toilets were built by 2013, 50 percent of which were the result of Mr. Chhim’s hard work in the community, yet he thought the commune could have achieved a better result had the team of the Commune Council worked hard together.
In October 2013, Chea Chhim, along with the commune chief and another commune councilor in Peang Veal Commune, was encouraged to participate in a series of training conducted by WaterSHED, where 65 commune leaders from Kong Pisei and Udongk district meet to share experiences and inspiration for greater leadership.
“While I have learned so much from the conference regarding leadership, teamwork and project management, I was so happy that my colleagues were joining too because we all were so motivated by the other Commune Councilors’ success stories when they work together to solve issues in the communities not just about toilet,” Mr. Chhim said.
After the first Discover Conference he attended, Mr. Chhim tried proposing a plan of action that engages all the seven commune councilors across the 12 villages during the monthly commune council meeting. With inspiring stories from the neighboring communes and strong support from the Commune Chief, the luck is now on Mr. Chhim’s side as his plan has been approved.
“Before, it is not that we do not think toilet is an important issue,” said Mr. Chan Seb, Peang Veal Commune Chief, “but we thought it was Chhim’s area of expertise. Now, with extra coaching from WaterSHED staffs, we can go to the villages and join Chhim in this toilet mission as well.”
In just three months, more than 70 toilets have been purchased due to the hard work of the team, and Mr. Chhim is positive that the boost of sales will get much higher in 2014 because now he finds it much easier to persuade villagers to purchase toilets when there is microfinance from Vision Fund to provide loan for the 185,000 riels latrine core purchased.
“For the plan in 2014, the Commune Council has decided to push the minimum of 5 toilets built in each village every month, so we are expecting a total of at least 70 toilets built per month from this time on ward,” he claimed.
Both Chan Seb and Chea Chhim acknowledged that leadership in a more micro-level, in other words the leadership of the village chiefs, plays a very important role in the success of ODF target because they provide resourceful information from the geographic information to the personal barrier to using toilet of each and every villagers.
Kae Phat, the Village Chief in Moat Ou village, Peang Lvea Commune, Odongk District, is one of the most active village chiefs working collaboratively with Chea Chhim to raise the awareness of using toilet in his village. Since 2011, Phat was able to raise the number of toilet from just 16 to 38 among 93 households in the village.
“It would definitely be my pride if my village can achieve ODF because of me, “ Mr. Kae Phat said, “all I have to do is to keep talking to people who have yet built a toilet and facilitate all the processes including the purchase of latrines and microfinance loan for their convenient, and I am sure we can achieve this in no time.”
Changing what people have been practicing their entire life and through generations, defecating in the public for instance, is very challenging, yet the odd is now in Chhim’s favor.
“Everyone including the councilors, village chiefs and villagers, might get tired of your toilet reasoning at some points, but don’t give up yet. Perseverance will pay off,” Mr. Chhim said, “One day they will know the benefits of using the toilet, and they will thank you for doing that.”