Her community was recently declared open defecation free – an accolade that takes time to achieve in some parts of Laos. When households don’t have toilets, they have no other choice but to use the outdoors. This leads to contaminated water supplies, and the spread of illnesses such as diarrhea and vomiting.
With Plan International’s help, every household in Ms Sommay’s community has an accessible toilet. But as she points out, “it’s fine to have a toilet, but people need to use them.”
Ms Sommay has signed up to help her community use their newly-installed toilets. If she meets a neighbour who isn’t using their toilet, she talks to them, asks them why and educates them on the risks of spreading disease. “It’s about health - if you don’t use the toilet it will get smelly. I tell them it’s important for their kids as well.”
Ms Sommay’s son, nine-year-old Thongkhoun loves to wash his hands, and has learnt to do this at school. As a member of his school’s hygiene club in the Pha Oudom district of northern Laos, he is serious about hygiene. He taught his mother how to wash her hands thoroughly – a seven-step process that includes cleaning your palms, wrists and fingers.
“My attitude has changed. I know that an unclean body and hands brings disease. I like telling my friends to stay clean. I taught my mum how to wash her hands in a better way. “It’s important that my friends clean themselves.
Since I have been teaching my friends, they practice hand-washing and personal hygiene at home. “If I saw someone with dirty hands who was about to eat food, I would say ‘Stop! It’s dirty. That’s full of disease. You have to wash your hands first or you’ll get sick.’”