We traveled 60km in a convoy of motorbikes to Takrok village on Saturday morning. Teachers from LOHI and senior students joined in on a weekend visitation to two rural villages outside of Battambang. The crisp morning breeze was refreshing and the view of endless green paddy fields was nothing short of spectacular. After 50mins or so on the bike, I could hardly feel my buttocks and was glad we arrived at this simple brick structure with a large zinc roof.

Children we running around, some half naked with their bottoms exposed, most barefooted and babies carried by their older siblings. We quickly started the children’s program while the other team visited village folk bringing with them goodies and cheer. The children’s program lasted a full two hours with song, games, stories and craft. Then we did something out of the norm, we set up cleaning stations, one of hair and the other for nails.

Hair lice is a major problem with village children. They are not in the habit of washing their hair with shampoo and overtime, lice settles in and finds the perfect nesting and resting place. Boys and girls lined up obediently waiting to be shampooed, they joke about the lice crawling out from their scalp and falling to the ground. They watch as we comb the tiny pests out. It was a harrowing experience for the shampoo ladies.

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Later, the children lined up to get their nails trimmed. Their cuticles were filled with dirt and chunks of it fell off as we trimmed their nails. It baffled me how simple hygiene and sanitary practices are simply ignored. The children knew or cared little about cleanliness. But are they to be blamed? Definitely not!

Without education and awareness, the children wouldn’t know otherwise. This is the way they have been brought up and this is what is natural to them. After that visit, it really got us thinking about sanitary and hygiene education. Where do we start? Who are the agents for change? How can we perpetuate good habits?

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In the coming months, we will be embarking on small mini projects that seek to elevate and raise awareness on sanitary and hygiene issues. We will be working with teachers from LOHI and local village leaders to educate and build necessary facilities to help instill good hygiene practices.

If you have a bright idea on how this could be done better… share with us your thoughts. We are also looking for partners to come alongside us.

Here’s what I learned from last weekend’s visit, that community development is seeing a problem, connecting with the locals and finding solutions to improve the quality of life. In these past three months, we’ve realised that doing small things at grassroots level is so important. Until we hold a child’s hand and realize that his hands are grimy and his nails are filthy or until we scrub a child’s scalp and get our hands dirty – we will never really understand the problem and our solutions will just be cookie cutter solutions without human connection. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many human actions occurring simultaneously.

“I’d grown up thinking that a [sanitary toilet] was my right, when in fact it’s a privilege — 2.5 billion people worldwide have no adequate toilet.” — Rose George

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