Wonder Woman: how heart and hard work transforms a village’s health

Nestled in the rocky mountains of Thanh Hoa Province, northern Vietnam, is the village of Cam Choung 2. The area is peaceful. Quaint wooden houses dot the landscape, with trees a fierce green during warm days. When it rained, the jagged limestone mountains would glimmer against the dark sky. Located in the tropics, Thanh Hoa would actually experience abundant rainfall, making the scenery even more majestic. However, rainwater flows downhill, and it would carry garbage, ashes, and even human waste into villages, polluting groundwater and causing foul smells and floods.

Photo by Conikal on Unsplash

Poor sanitation practices also aggravated the situation. Many families would use flimsy leaf-roofed sheds or holes covered in dried leaves as toilets, while some chose to defecate outdoors. Women were especially burdened, as they had to clean up after the flooding and care for those who got sick from drinking or coming in contact with the dirty water.

Do Thi Nuong, a resident and volunteer of the Vietnam’s Women’s Union couldn’t bear to see her community’s health deteriorate and decided things had to change. She tapped East Meets West Foundation (that’s Thrive Networks in Vietnam) to help bring better sanitation solutions to their village. Thus, a partnership was born. Together with Do Thi and her team of volunteers, we started talking to the families to raise awareness for improved hygiene practices, while coordinating with local enterprises to provide affordable toilets.

Our output-based aid program also helped move Do Thi and her team’s dream forward. Through our unique approach, which enables government and businesses to co-fund the project, we provide cash reimbursements and support for low-income families to afford a connection to clean water and toilets in or near their homes.

Do Thi’s work was often difficult, as she would go house to house in the remote mountainous community, speaking with residents about the importance of having an improved toilet. But she and her team of volunteers were persistent. With each family she visited, Do Thi’s confidence grew and she sought out more opportunities to convince families and women like her to make positive health changes. Knowing that the purchase of a new toilet is a major investment, she put a lot of effort into getting to know each family better, understand their needs, and approaching them at the best times. For example, she visited families who were in high spirits from recently selling crops or livestock or have just celebrated a wedding.

Today, over 90% of the community’s households have toilets with septic tanks, well above many countries’ national coverage rate. Do Thi is proud: “I am glad to be able to help my community gain access to nice and clean toilets. Some people still show great gratitude when we meet,” she shared.