In rural Cambodia, up to 80% families do not have access to toilets or sanitation. This is also true of government schools. It is hard to imagine secondary schools of more than 1000 students without a working toilet or clean water tap but this is the situation faced in many school districts across the country.

In Kompot province this is a regular occurrence. Perhaps the biggest impact in seen in girl education. Girls may enter secondary schooling full of promise and enthusiasm but challenges with sanitation and access to toilets were listed as one of the key deterrents from girls continuing with their schooling. At an age when girls are in danger of being conscripted into the burgeoning garment factory industry, 15-18 years old, they are returning home and becoming less motivated about educational opportunities. These trends are increasing – decreasing girl ratios in secondary education and increasing numbers securing low paying labour roles in factories and petit trade. In addition health implications are seeing more school days being lost due to sickness and disease.

The answers are obvious but not simple. Along with the building of toilets and wells to maintain the water supply, negotiations need to be followed through with school officials and local community representatives. The long-term maintenance of the newly built infrastructure, as well as hygiene practices and training, need to be taken up by the respective communities. Without this commitment and capacity training then it is just another infrastructure project that will have a limited shelf life.

These three way partnerships between Focus Cambodia, government schools and local community leadership are what make this initiative effective and impacting for students as well as the wider community.