Cal­gary de­vel­op­ment model aids Cam­bo­di­ans

Wa­ter-wise train­ing im­proves con­di­tions

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - PETER MCCART­NEY

KAM­PONG THOM, CAM­BO­DIA — Con­sid­er­ing that ev­ery­body poops, one would think the process would be pretty stan­dard world­wide.

Par­tic­i­pants at a la­trine-build­ing work­shop in ru­ral Cam­bo­dia at the end of May learned that wasn’t the case. One of their op­tions: Should the ce­ment base of the out­house be flat or shaped like a dome?

Since South­east Asians are wash­ers (not wipers) they tend to pre­fer a flat base. Domes just cre­ate a mess. That’s ex­actly the sort of con­text-spe­cific knowl­edge the Cal­gary-based Cen­tre for Af­ford­able Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Tech­nol­ogy (CAWST) hopes to bring to its train­ing work­shops.

“We can never do this job as well as (lo­cal train­ers) can,” said Andrew Ap­pell, an in­ter­na­tional tech­ni­cal ad­viser from CAWST who helped run the course. “They just take it and run with it.”

CAWST has eight Wa­ter Ex­per­tise and Train­ing (WET) Cen­tres world­wide. Re­searchers de­velop course ma­te­rial for work­shops, which are de­liv­ered (with as­sis­tance) by a part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tion. It es­ti­mates 7.5 mil­lion people in 63 coun­tries ben­e­fit from im­proved wa­ter or san­i­ta­tion as a re­sult of its work.

“We con­sider our­selves train­ers of train­ers. So the whole point is this ex­po­nen­tial growth of knowl­edge,” said Ap­pell.

Rather than donat­ing in­fra­struc­ture like wells, wa­ter fil­ters or la­trines, CAWST’s unique de­vel­op­ment model fo­cuses ex­clu­sively on ca­pac­ity-build­ing.

“(Knowl­edge is) al­ways likely to spread be­yond the ini­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion. You can’t do that with hard­ware; it’s one and done,” he said.

Sor Lina hopes to take what she learned at the five-day course and ap­ply it to her projects with the Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion in sur­round­ing Kam­pong Thom prov­ince.

“People here don’t have very much ed­u­ca­tion about WASH (wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion hy­giene),” she said through an in­ter­preter. “As you can see, there are proper ways to do these things.

“If the people have bet­ter knowl­edge they will not get sick.”

Poor hy­giene prac­tices help keep many in the de­vel­op­ing world in poverty. In Cam­bo­dia, 65 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion prac­tises “open defe­ca­tion,” a san­i­tized term for go­ing wher­ever na­ture calls. End­less sick­ness is the re­sult. It pre­vents people from go­ing to work or school and it leaves them with costly med­i­cal bills in a coun­try where the aver­age an­nual salary is only about $750.

“In our past, people didn’t re­al­ize open defe­ca­tion could cause a prob­lem,” said Ung Kun­tear, man­ager of Cam­bo­dia’s WET Cen­tre. “We are try­ing to trans­fer the knowl­edge and skills so they can trans­form their life.”

Cam­bo­dia’s govern­ment wants ev­ery house­hold to have a toi­let by 2025 (though it ap­pears to be re­ly­ing en­tirely on NGOs to get it done). Less than 30 per cent have one now. It’s an am­bi­tious goal for WASH cam­paign­ers in the coun­try. The WET Cen­tre is still in its startup stage, but even­tu­ally it will be in­de­pen­dent.

“We’re pro­vid­ing ca­pac­ity build­ing on a long-term ba­sis, as long as it takes,” said Ap­pell.

This fo­cus on train­ing has a num­ber of ad­van­tages over di­rect do­na­tions. Build­ing a la­trine for a fam­ily with­out im­part­ing key knowl­edge falls into a com­mon trap. No­body knows how to main­tain the project or sees the point in the prac­tice, so it falls into dis­re­pair and dis­use. Re­searchers at Cran­field Univer­sity iden­tify CAWST as the only WASH or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing ex­clu­sively on ca­pac­ity build­ing. Its novel ap­proach earned it a Non­profit In­no­va­tion Award from the Cal­gary Cham­ber of Vol­un­tary Or­ga­ni­za­tions in 2011 and a place as one of Tides Canada’s top 10 change mak­ers in the same year.

“It has be­come clear that the fo­cus on in­fra­struc­ture has failed to deliver the de­sired re­sults,” said CAWST CEO Shauna Curry. “Over the past decade, CAWST has proven that by build­ing knowl­edge and skills of lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, we can have a much greater reach and sus­tained im­pact.”

CAWST’s is truly a Cal­gar­y­born model. Founder Camille Dow Baker worked in the oil and gas in­dus­try un­til she went back to school at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary. There she met Dr. David Manz, who had re­cently de­vel­oped the biosand fil­ter, a house­hold de­vice that uses sand and gravel to clean drink­ing wa­ter. Baker’s mas­ter’s the­sis on how to dis­trib­ute the prod­uct was the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of what would be­come CAWST in 2001, and the fil­ters re­main CAWST’s flag­ship work­shop around the world.

Now it is mov­ing into a new of­fice at the south edge of the air­port, thank­ful for the city’s con­tin­ued sup­port.

“From the be­gin­ning, Cal­gar­i­ans have sup­ported our pi­o­neer­ing ap­proach by in­vest­ing their time, ex­per­tise and dol­lars,” said Curry. “Cal­gar­i­ans have en­abled us to take risks, be en­tre­pre­neur­ial and be­come the global cen­tre of ex­per­tise that we are to­day.”

Peter McCart­ney/For the Cal­gary Herald

Par­tic­i­pants place flash cards in or­der of im­proved san­i­ta­tion con­di­tions at a la­trine-build­ing work­shop in Kam­pong Thom, Cam­bo­dia.

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