Empowering Village School Children -WASH Awareness in Vientiane, Lao PDR

UTM delegates visited Vientiane, Lao from 21 June to 24 June 2014, to conduct a water sanitation and health (WASH) awareness program in collaboration with the National Centre for Environmental Health and Water Supply (Nam Saat). This was an extension to the March 20 – 24 engagement, where a large number of UTM researchers and students participated in water quality testing around the village of Ban Na Ngom.

This time around, the focus of the engagement was on building basic awareness regarding water, sanitation and improved health among the community in Ban Na Ngom. One of the initiatives involved empowering local school children by equipping them with the knowledge of e.coli testing through the use of a simple test kit. This project is funded by CLMV, Ministry of Education and headed by UTM Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni), in collaboration with UTM-Community Transformation Centre and Nam Saat.

A smaller group comprising three researchers and four students prepared the ground work for this program through several internal meeting and external meetings with Nam Saat delegates prior to the field visit. Staff members from the local school were briefed on the procedure and implementation of the fieldwork.

Visits were made to houses in 4 different areas of the village. UTM researchers, together with Nam Saat officials, and participating school children performed e.coli contamination test on several water sources (well water, tank water, water from bio sand filter and drinking water), to investigate how e.coli contamination occurs and to gauge the severity of the contamination. The volunteer groups covered more than 20 households in the village, performing water quality tests on approximately 100 water sources.

The village home owners visited were also interviewed on water quality related questions to identify their needs regarding water issues within the village. Continued support from UTM was requested by the villagers and Nam Saat to leverage across UTM’s capacity and expertise in assisting the community in Ban Na Ngom during the summer or dry season (April – May) as some experience water shortage due to drie up wells. These villagers would then have to collect water for household usage by travelling to lower parts (lower land) of the village.

Collaboration between UTM and Nam Saat has been further strengthened with an LoC being signed, involving a student from the Faculty of Chemical Engineering. The student will be working with Nam Saat officials as an intern, and will be supervised by an Australian water technical trainer volunteer. The internship covers a project for the duration of 12 weeks, where water quality tests to measure water turbidity in Na Tam village will be conducted in order to investigate the correlation between water turbidity and diarrhea and vomiting.

The Lao engagement has been an enriching experience for participating UTM staff and students. It has not only expanded their global outlook, particularly in enhancing awareness on cultural differences, but it has also inculcated values like respect, team working, accountability, and inclusiveness.

The partnership between UTM and Nam Saat can be further expanded and strengthened through future Continuous Professional Development (CPD) capacity building activities, particularly among Lao Ministry of Health nurses. Another possible area of collaboration is in English language training programs among various groups such as school children, nurses, and Nam Saat volunteers.

 

Souvenirs being distributed by UTM student among local school children.
Souvenirs being distributed by UTM student among local school children.