Cambodian schools pilot reopening in a new normal

Cambodian schools pilot reopening in a new normal

Hun Sen Mitthapheap High School is among the first schools to reopen in Cambodia, and one of the largest to participate in this pilot reopening phase. After months of planning, they reopened the upper grades this week. Rather than undertaking expensive facilities work with professional contractors, students themselves were well able to set up hand washing stations in each of their classrooms in a matter of minutes.

September 21, 2021, Sihanoukville, Cambodia -- Hun Sen Mitthapheap High School is among the first schools to reopen in Cambodia, and the largest of five schools to reopen on Monday this week in Sihanoukville province. After months of planning, they are piloting safe reopening.

Hun Sen Mitthapheap is carefully following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by authorities. On reopening day, measures for social distancing and mask wearing were in full effect, along with COVID-19 testing for all students and staff, and an innovative approach to hand hygiene: one hand washing sink for each of the 22 classrooms that welcomed students back.

In this school, rather than undertaking expensive facilities work with professional contractors, students themselves were well able to set up hand washing stations in each of their classrooms in a matter of minutes. A modular, portable hand washing sink called LaBobo has been introduced here, after success in many other schools in Cambodia, the US, the UK, and around the world.

Deputy Principal, Eng Long, said “This is for a new normal. The students will need to wash hands more often and we are glad we are able to make it accessible for them with these stands [LaBobos].” 

Alcohol sanitizer is convenient, but hand washing with soap is the first choice.

On opening day, most students carried a bottle of alcohol sanitizer with them in a pocket or backpack. Although convenient, per health authorities such as the United States Centers for Disease Control, “Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick…Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs, [and] hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.”  Furthermore, water and soap is much more cost-effective than alcohol spray, and is the best option for children to use when returning to the classroom, after sneezing and coughing, frequently touching their faces, adjusting masks, or before and after meals and snacks.

An innovative way to expand hand washing facilities -- no plumbing needed

Installing permanent sinks in each classroom would have been expensive, and furthermore, wouldn’t give the flexibility of a portable option. 

On opening day, students had fun deciding where to put the handwashing stations within the classroom, and nominating student leaders to refill them with water. 

Keo Prak, grade 12 math teacher, observes that his students are practicing hand washing more than before the pandemic. Prak credits the easier access to handwash devices for his students, saying, “we kept the handwashing sinks at the door of the classroom, and it is very visible for students as they walk by. Also it is portable, so they can fill up the water. I notice that when students see others washing their hands, they follow. This is a good behavior change -- when they can reach the device easily.” 

Down the hall, 9th grader Sreynoch was a fan. “I saw my friends washing their hands. I want to try too,” she said.

These particular portable sinks will be a permanent fixture for this school. They come with a 5 year warranty and expected lifespan of over a decade, according to the manufacturer. Long after this pandemic is behind us, these students will have handwashing stations in the classroom as a cue to wash hands regularly, as part of their routine. 

From USAID project to handwashing solution at scale

The LaBobo’s design dates back to an innovative USAID program (WaterSHED -- Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Enterprise Development) that experimented with market-based solutions for better water, sanitation and hygiene. USAID, through its Development Innovation Ventures program, later seeded the independent social business that took LaBobo to market. 

In 2010, WaterSHED set out to tackle one of the most frustrating public health conundrums: despite a high level of awareness of the benefits of handwashing with soap, actual practice is very low. In 2014, only 19% of the global population was estimated to consistently wash hands with soap after contact with feces (Freeman et al. 2014). 

Their formative research pointed to a key problem—one that is now gaining attention with COVID-19: the sheer lack of handwashing facilities. 

Leading a consortium of partners and an intensive user-feedback & testing process, WaterSHED developed the HappyTap (called LaBobo in Asia), the leading commercial handwashing sink designed to nudge safer handwashing behavior. Nudge how? Its portability means that it can be easily set up to insert water, soap, and a basin into an existing routine. Finished using the toilet? Wash your hands at the door. Getting ready to cook? Wash your hands next to the cutting board. 

“To our delight, rural consumers loved their HappyTaps. For some, it created the experience of an indoor sink they saw in health clinics and on TV, but without the need for indoor plumbing.” observed Geoff Revell, HappyTap founder. 

Just in time for schools

Ouch Sophea, head of Provincial Education Department, Sihanoukville province is excited to see more portable hand wash sinks. 

“In fact, we have 102 schools across the province and we would like to expand the handwash device all over the province, to every school and every classroom.This is just a pilot reopening. We had no idea how it was going to work. And as I saw the device, [LaBobo], I am more relieved and I want to  make sure we are using them more and more frequently.” 

Said Roswell Thomas, Director of Business Development for HappyTap Co., the company bringing the LaBobos to market: “We are proud to work with partners to ensure schools like Hun Sen Mittapheap in Sihanoukville province in safe reopening with improved hand hygiene. 

“We are working with both public and private partners on a project for safe school reopening, and we invite other partners, especially companies operating in Cambodia to support schools across the country to safely welcome students back to the classroom as soon as possible.”

He added, “I was so impressed to see the coordination of this school reopening initiative, and to watch students bringing LaBobos to their classrooms full of water, loaded with soap, and ready to go. Let’s make sure all students have this chance to get back to learning.” 


Khmer & English: Rathana Hul, Safe School Reopening Project, dbrathanahul at (email), +855 87 833 944 (Telegram, WhatsApp, phone)

English: Roswell Thomas, Director of Business Development, roswell at (email), +855 89 287 003 (Telegram, WhatsApp, phone)

About HappyTap

HappyTap is a social enterprise on a mission to build the new normal for handwashing. Today, people are asked to wash hands at more times and in more places, but nearly all the sinks are located in the bathroom. The new normal will require that sinks for handwashing are within reach - no more going down the hall, turning left, and then finding the third door on the right. More at 

<Read full article>

The new normal for hygiene

Putting handwashing within reach