A current International and Community Development Masters Degree student at Deakin University in Melbourne, Sonia Louise Cozens is interning with World Hope International Australia in Cambodia for several months. Traveling out to our various site locations across the country, Sonia is focused on observing and learning from World Hope’s market-driven and community-led approach to international development. This blog is written by her shortly after her arrival in Cambodia.
I have access to a wide variety of shops within 5 minutes’ drive in my European convertible sports car: a supermarket, a bakery, a butcher, coffee shops, an organic fruit and vegetable store, a post office, a newsagent, a hairdresser, clothing boutiques, restaurants – Thai, Indian, Italian, Caribbean, gluten free café and pub bistro, I even have an art gallery, gift store and antique store, all in the nearby quaint South East Queensland township of Yandina.
With a long history of community volunteer work and community/arts management employment, I recently decided to return to university for my 4th post-graduate course, thanks to the Australian Government’s supported HECS loans. I study online with Deakin University in Melbourne using my Wi-Fi connection, soon to qualify for another Master’s Degree, this time in International and Community Development.
Deakin University MICD Intern Sonia Cozens and WHI CEO Ruth Thomas.
Passionate about helping people and our global neighbours, I carefully crafted my course electives to encompass a 2 month international internship placement. After much leg work, I connected with Ruth Thomas, CEO of World Hope International (WHI) in Australia who in turn connected me with Dr. Emelita Santos Goddard (fondly known as Milet) – Technical Director and Community Development Program Manager of Asia Pacific for WHI based in Cambodia.
Typical house in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia.
After around 20 minutes we arrived at the World Hope office that sat comfortably nestled into the surrounding village houses.
Attending my first focus group session, a cross section of 6 successful male farmers from the local villages all sat with bright eyes and big smiles on the floor of the vibrant green shipping container/turned air-conditioned WHI office. Mushroom farming was an extra job for these hardworking men, they were already farming rice, cassava and cashew in order to make ends meet. But even after 12-15 hour days, these men found it difficult to provide the bare essentials for their families, and before WHI arrived, there wasn’t even electricity in the village.
World Hope International Cambodia staff, L to R: Milet, Sinay and Pheap.
Successful village farmers. Middle: “I can now afford to build a toilet”.
Jovially responding to Milet’s crafted evaluation questions, each man took turns in sharing their personal stories revealing significant evidence of change. Then, one softly spoken farmer proudly uttered ‘Thanks to mushroom farming, I can now afford to build a toilet’ – a tear formed in my eye.
How dare I take sanitation for granted without a second thought! Access to sanitation is critical – a fundamental human right for every single individual. Sanitation crucially protects our health, eliminates illness and prevents fatality from deadly diseases. UNICEF observes that in Cambodia, “Children continue to be stunted and to die from preventable sanitation and water-related causes, because they do not have access to clean water, toilets and hand-washing facilities in their communities and schools.”
Now, thanks to continued donor help and support, 66% of families have toilets and 71% have access to a toilet – but we’d love to make it 100%.
I will NEVER take my toilet for granted ever again. Every time I think of this farmer, tears come to my eyes – how can such a basic need still be so hard to obtain for many? I too want to make a commitment to basic humanitarian rights and continue to help others live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. Thank you for having me World Hope and thank you Deakin University.