WHAT’S A WASH HOUSE?
We get a lot of people ask us “Ummmm what exactly is a wash house?” … and fair enough.
Prior to Head, Heart & Hand I’d never had the need to name an “outdoor, sheltered structure where the public (in our case - students) can go to wash their hands and faces and brush their teeth.”
Apparently the term “wash-house” (lavoir) was first used in Europe and was a public place where people could go to do communal washing of clothes (like an outdoor laundromat.) in French “wash house” kinda’ translates to bassin publique (public basin) and that’s effectively what a Head, Heart & Hand “Wash-House” is: A public basin where students can go to wash their hands and faces and brush their teeth.
The irony is that I once lived on a farm in rural Victoria and often did a 100km round trip to do our washing at a laundromat in a nearby town, in the hope that I’d meet travellers who were doing exciting things with their lives… Now days I build Wash Houses alongside our global family … and together we connect travellers (volunteers) on a united mission. … We’re not just hanging out waiting for the spin cycle to finish though… we’re saving lives and creating employment and training opportunities in a developing country while we do it! (Ahhhh the life purpose journey…)
WHY DO WE BUILD THEM?
As it stands 10,000 people die annually in Cambodia due to a lack of sanitation and poor hygiene practices. According to Unicef “Lack of water and sanitation is one of the biggest issues affecting children across Cambodia. Creating clean environments for children averts threats to health and supports their best chance at a prosperous life.”
During the early years with Head, Heart & Hand Holidays I’d witnessed a lot of sick children in school communities (and out in villages) that quite obviously didn’t have the “energy reserves” to handle a “simple” illness like diarreah or a tummy bug. These children would deteriorate rapidly and most didn’t have access to doctors or medication, in fact most had parents who could not afford to take a day off work to be with them. The kids would then stagger through their school day with vomiting and diarreah, without washing hands and unknowingly share the bug with all their school friends. The reality is that malnourished children continue to die due to a lack of access and awareness of basic-hygiene.
I also once witnessed a young boy lapse into a coma brought on by a “simple” tooth infection that went systemic. Had he not got to a hospital in time he would have died. Tooth brushing isn’t just about white smiles and future employment opportunities - it’s about preventing illness and death. For the record- a standard dental procedure in remote villages involves applying battery acid to a painful cavity and can include using crushed rocks to fill the cavity and/ or extremely painful, unhygienic extraction.
After years of working in Cambodia on various Head, Heart & Hand building projects (including schools, playgrounds, solar panels, vegetable gardens, fish ponds etc) Vuthy (our project manager) and I came to the united conclusion that the best way we could support our volunteers to make a responsible and sustainable difference in the lives of the Cambodian people is by building wash-houses in school communities (and providing students with access to life-saving basic hygiene and hygiene education) and so we began specialising in Wash-Houses.
HOW DO WE BUILD THEM?
Heart & Hand Holidays employ our own local building team made up of our project manager Vuthy, Head builder Panha, builders Kimsour, Kuy, Sen, Dara and volunteer builder Ponlock (“Mr Kim”) Our volunteers join the project as labourers for our building team.
Each Wash House structure takes one week to build and our volunteers work on alternate days to allow time for cement to dry in between. A Wash House also includes a water tank and tank stand.
Volunteer Day 1 involves preparing the foundations, digging the ground and burying the waste container, we begin brick laying and concreting the sink floor.
Volunteer Day 2 involves digging the ground to bury the PVC for plumbing, continuing to dig the ground and sink the waste containers, we begin painting.
Volunteer Day 3 involves completing the painting of the wash house, tidying up the ground, testing the wash house and is completed with a traditional monk blessing ceremony and official handover of the wash house.
Each Wash House project costs USD $2775. Wash Houses are funded by volunteers *each volunteer per group of 14 is responsible for fundraising or donating approx AUD $250 (or equivalent to current exchange rate.)
*Nb/ as of 2020 Wash House funding will be included in our package price.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE WASH HOUSE IS BUILT?
Thanks for asking! ‘Coz yup it doesn’t stop here. After each wash house has been built, traditionally blessed and officially handed over to the school community our volunteers and team enjoy a night out to celebrate and connect! However once our volunteers have headed back home the good work continues…
We send in our local hygiene Education team which comprises of social workers and team members from Tnai Samrap Srey (Days For Girls) to distribute our donated toiletry supplies and implement hygiene education and menstrual education (more on this below.)
Vuthy (Our Project manager) makes monthly rounds of all our past projects to ensure the wash houses (and projects) are well maintained and assists the school principals with any maintenance required. This is funded by Head, Heart & Hand Holidays. I also make quarterly rounds of all our projects.
Replacement toiletry supplies are re-stocked on a quarterly basis - funded by Head, Heart & Hand Holidays and some donations.
WHY IS BASIC HYGIENE EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
It’s important to remember that Cambodia is a developing country with many of the rural population living below the poverty line thus contributing to little to no awareness of the importance of basic hygiene. All rural people DO know for sure is that family and community members get sick, deteriorate quickly and die. It’s as simple (and as heart wrenching) as that.
Without the hygiene lessons in place, the Wash Houses would just be structures in the middle of a school yard. The children have to know WHY it’s important for them to wash their hands with soap and brush their teeth and then they have to learn HOW to do it. We employ a team of local social workers to implement hygiene education.
When our volunteers are building we ensure they are grounded and present for members of the school community (and our local team) so that our volunteers (and the wash house legacy) leaves a good impression. When there is mutual respect people are more open to learning. We make the Wash House ceremony a special event and abide by local tradition for this reason also. In an ego-fee environment our volunteers are open to learning a LOT about life from the locals, the locals are then left with the open-ness and willingness to learn about the importance of basic-hygiene... (believe me when I say there is total “method to our madness” and a bigger picture responsibility that goes along with everything Head, Heart & Hand Holidays is a part of.)
We use a local team of trained social workers to implement the lessons so that students and teachers feel comfortable. Most humans are open to learning from people who “walk the talk” and have lived their experience. Head, Heart & Hand Holidays funds the hygiene ed team and pays the teachers at the schools an incentive wage to oversee the daily hygiene rituals until they become habit.
As part of the hygiene education that goes along with our Wash Houses, the Tnai Samrap Srey (Days For Girls) women also give menstrual hygiene education lessons to menstruating female students and female students over 11 years of age. Tnai Samrap Srey also provide menstruating students with hand-washable sanitary kits.
Many girls and women in rural Cambodia have little to no understanding of their menstrual cycle. Many don’t know why they are bleeding or how to “stop it.” Often rocks and leaves are used in the place of sanitary pads and girls miss days of school because they don’t have appropriate sanitary items or access to hand washing. (Hence the name Tnai Samrap Srey - “Days for girls” as it’s giving school days back to girls.)
Basic hygiene saves lives and knowledge of how the reproductive system works empowers lives … Both assist in breaking the cycle of poverty.
OK I GET IT! PLEASE TELL ME HOW I CAN HELP?
We’re glad you asked! None of what we do is possible without our beautiful volunteers, legendary partners and generous sponsors… It’s all a HUGE team effort. Here’s a long list (not our full list) of ways you can help:
Join us as a volunteer. Check out upcoming trips>>
Join us as a group co-ordinator (inspire 13 team mates to join you on a Head, Heart and Hand Holiday) >> http://www.headheartandhandholidays.com.au/group-bookings
Help gather toiletry supplies. Please connect with us to discuss fundraising ideas and to receive a copy of our code of conduct>>
Purchase a Karma gift of toiletry kits for a class room >> http://www.headheartandhandholidays.com.au/karmashopping/karma-gift-1
Purchase a Karma gift of hygiene education for a school >> http://www.headheartandhandholidays.com.au/karmashopping/karma-gift-1-9dgt9
Purchase a Karma gift of Menstrual education & sanitary kits for girls>>
Make a donation >>
Support our awesome partners ARKOUN HANDMADE and SREY UNITED. Check them out on google and social media.
Go full out and donate a wash house for our team to build>>
…And all of this is JUST about our Wash House mission… The Head, Heart & Hand journey is SO much more. Head, Heart & Hand Holidays is a responsible, holistic travel experience that creates a far reaching ripple effect for our team in Cambodia, their families, our volunteers and everyone who is inspired by our volunteers and mission…
Thank you so much for taking the time to learn about our Wash House mission. And thank you to everyone past, present and future who has been a valued part of the Head, Heart & Hand journey … We are eternally grateful … your legacy lives on … The journey continues…