I was intrigued by the sight of blue water bottles lined up in front of many houses and small shops as I traveled to Cheutiel Phlous Krom village, Kanchor commune, Chhlong district, Kraite Province in Cambodia. This little town is located on the banks of the majestic Mekong River. These bottles are kept to be refilled with clean drinking water from the water purification plant established in the village, a team member informed me. The plant is managed and operated by the village women who look after the business with some support from the Commune Council.
The Councils are local level governance units in Cambodia, often comprising two to three villages. I was curious to know more about it as I drove closer to the commune health centre campus where the plant is built. The water plant purifier is run by solar-powered technology.
“The water management committee has given me training on operation and maintenance of the plant. The employment in the water plant has also given me sustainable income,” Ms.Phiv Kalyan, the business operator said, proudly showing the water purification process. “We are confident that we can sustain the business operations . I am also happy that with my involvement, I can help the villagers improve their health and well-being,” she added.
I was told that the plant will be handed over to the local authorities shortly. The bottled purified water is sold to the villagers at an affordable price. The income thus earned is used to sustain the business operation of the plant. However, the business part of this initiative is still being improved as there have been some challenges.
Ms. Kit Thavy, the village health promoter told me that incidences of water-borne diseases have come down significantly since the inception of the plant and related awareness generation activities. Apart from having access to safe water, now the households in the village have also improved their hygiene practices. There is a water sanitation and hygiene committee in the village that promotes health and hygiene practices through street drama, school awareness events and door to door campaigns.
The provision of bottled safe drinking water has also reduced women’s burden of collecting fuel wood for boiling the water. Households are spared of purchasing safe drinking water from private companies at exorbitant prices.
“The women’s group also creates awareness on gender issues and fights all forms of violence against women in the community,” the village health promoter added. He also invited me to meet with three families of women who have been suffering from violence related issues in the past.
“My husband used to beat me and we used to always quarrel in the past. But with the help of the workshops and trainings, our relationship has improved. As a family we are better now,” one of the women narrated her experiences. The women’s group in the village identifies troubled families and motivates them to join workshops organised for both husband and wife. They are made aware of their situation and encouraged to find solutions collectively. The women said that many families have benefited from this process and are willing to help others.
It was encouraging to see them speak with joy and confidence. Later I was told that the whole approach was adapted by an alumnus of Oxfam’s Gender Leadership Programme (GLP) as part of his training project. Once he saw the results, especially intra-household changes in the gender relations, he encouraged other partners to incorporate this approach as part of the mobilisation strategy to address violence against women. I was really pleased see the impact of GLP . This approach is now being documented by a national women’s rights partner as a training module for wider use. By simplifying these modules, the team is also planning to equip the benefitted families to be change makers in their neighbourhoods.
I was greatly impressed by the innovative and entrepreneurial approach of women’s group in the village. They are taking a holistic approach to find lasting solutions to their problems. Oxfam and its partners have established ten such water plants led by women in Kratie and Kampong Thom provinces of Cambodia, benefiting more than 75,000 people. “The effective running of water plants has given the women a lot of confidence and they are taking more responsibilities at the commune level,“ Mr. Keo Sokun, the Kancho commune chief told me during our meeting . Thus in all these communes it is the story of women’s mobilisation and power that helps them change lives.
While talking to the Oxfam team, it was clear that they have effectively used multi-stakeholder approach to find innovative solutions to address issues. In the case of setting up the water plant as a micro enterprise, the team worked with a water technology partner, local government, local NGO and communities. Similar approach is taken across the work of Oxfam team in Cambodia while working on the issues of land governance, women’s economic empowerment and political leadership.
The team has already laid out plans to promote and integrate these local solutions at a wider scale. Oxfam’s work in ten different communes across provinces on women led water micro enterprises have been discussed at the highest level. During our meeting with the Minister for Rural Development, we shared about this initiative. The ministry would like to explore the possibility of replicating this initiative along with Oxfam. Our team is currently doing a research to gather evidence of programme’s impact and a documentary is being filmed to capture the views and opinions of various stakeholders involved, especially the women leaders. These will be shared at the national level. I wish all success to the team in its efforts in the various provinces of Cambodia.
In the second week of April, Cambodia will observe the traditional water festival. It will be an opportune moment to celebrate the stories of women transforming lives through water – the fountain of life.