Open defecation free to ensure human dignity

“Before I only used to go defecated at night or very early in the morning so no one would see me, even I am a bit scared of the dark and wild animals like snakes,” shared Phuong, the 51-year-old wife of the three-generation family. “I feel ashamed, but there was nothing l could do. My family could never afford to build a latrine.” She lives with her husband, who cannot work due to chronic sciatica, and her six-year-old grandchild with a mental disability. Building a hygienic latrine was never on Phuong’s list of priorities as she could barely make enough from working on the field and her son’s meager earnings sent home.
The family latrine is built on the river near the house by wood and half-covered by tarpaulin. The direct human waste to the river increases the risk of water contamination and spreads diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery. “He has a bad digestive system and usually gets diarrhea, fever and coughing. It makes him skinnier than his peers.” Phuong talked about her grandson in a sad tone. The low-land location also gets this area easily flooded when raining and makes it dangerous for her husband and grandson to access the open defecation. Thereby, they often require the accompanies of others for their personal hygiene.
Thanks to Habitat Vietnam and SC Johnson, their family now has a safe, accessible private toilet to improve their hygiene and health. “I am just so grateful for what Habitat has done for me. My husband and my grandson now no longer need anyone to go with them when using the facilities,” said Phuong, referring to her new latrine in joy. “We can use it when in need, and I make sure to keep it clean.”

The open latrine (left) and newly-built hygienic toilet (right) of Phuong’s family.

This story is the part of another 25 latrines that Habitat Vietnam built for a poor household in Dong Thap province under the project” Healthy Children and Healthy Families” funded by SC Johnson. The project aims to strengthen the community with sound hygiene and sanitation conditions and mindset by improving access to WASH facilities and increasing their understanding of the impacts of proper hygiene and sanitation habits on their health and well-being.

Open defecation is considered a major public health menace. In Vietnam, nearly 20 million or 2 percent of the population still defecate in public, spreading diseases like flu, diarrhea and dysentery. Many women in rural area face discrimination and many challenges in accessing WASH services, resulting in unmet sanitation needs due to existing gender norms and low income.

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