by Sarah Anderson, Communications Intern, with contribution from Pham Ngoc Mai, PSI/Vietnam Rural Supply Chain Manager
Linh is a single mom, a farmer, and a life insurance saleswoman. On top of all of that, she’s also had to spend over ten years practicing open defecation.
Linh’s home commune of Dak Sor suffers from poor hygienic conditions, and many people are forced to defecate in the open with little to no privacy. Few people have access to modern latrines and Linh only got a toilet for her small two-room home in 2017. “I am a single mother raising a child and my family situation is hard with only the two of us. When we did not have a hygienic latrine, I often felt uncomfortable with the feeling that someone was looking at me and I was embarrassed to defecate in the open. I also often suffered from gynecological diseases due to poor hygiene conditions.”
Like a lot of moms, Linh has a busy schedule. She cares for her smart, active, and talkative 11-year-old daughter. She farms corn, coffee and rice to increase income for the family, and sells life insurance. But after she was invited to participate in a local event hosted by PSI/Vietnam, advocating for better sanitation became her third job. Now, Linh’s main priority is to help the vulnerable in her community.
“[At the event], I was completely convinced about the humanity of the program because if the households had latrines, women and girls – like me and my daughter – would feel more comfortable and safe comparing to open defecation, and elders would be safer because they would not have to worry about slipping and falling during the night or rainy days. For those reasons, although I was very busy with the job of life insurance consulting, when I noticed that PSI was recruiting community champions, I volunteered to participate,” she said.
In Vietnam today, 17 million people do not have access to a clean, private toilet. This puts women and girls at risk of rape and assault when open defecation makes them vulnerable in remote areas. To add to the issue, one in ten children under five worldwide die due to poor sanitation and hygiene.
These trends are starting to reverse with champions like Linh.
As a Community Champion, Linh’s goal is to improve hygiene practices and increase the number of households who build latrines. She visits homes that don’t have toilets and educates people on the value of building one. She then refers people to trained, affiliated masons who can build high-quality latrines.
Her work is part of a larger project funded by Norwegian philanthropist Camilla Hagen Sørli, a founding member of Maverick Collective, PSI’s philanthropy and innovation lab. Linh, her fellow Community Champions, and the project at large are working to prove that there’s a market in Vietnam for high-quality, hygienic toilets in resource-poor and remote areas like Dak Sor Commune. The project works to create female entrepreneurs while addressing sanitation issues. Since it began, 1,039 septic tanks have been purchased by rural families.
“Even though Vietnam is ranked as a middle-income country and has seen substantial economic growth over the last years, much of the rural population still does not have access to proper sanitation,” said Sørli. “Linh´s story is empowering and hopefully an inspiration to both people in her community and the other stakeholders involved. Recruiting Community Champions such as Linh is one of the most important factors of increased awareness around hygiene and sanitation.”
Linh also finds her work with this project very satisfying.
“What makes me proud is being able to bring hygienic latrines to the community, so that the members of my community can have a better life, and to prevent diseases in the commune,” she said.
In her free time, Linh also invites her neighbors who live without latrines to visit her home to see her toilet and discuss the hygiene benefits. Each day, she gets a little bit closer to her goal of making life easier and healthier for the people of her community. Making a difference makes her three-job schedule worth it.
“I happened to see my neighbor in the rural market and she was very thankful and appreciative since I consulted and encouraged her to build a latrine,” said Linh. “Today, life is better for her and her family.”
Translations by Nguyen Minh Tuan, PSI/Vietnam Director of Products
Banner image © PSI/Jake Lyell