Posted by Tony THOMAS

"Getting There is Half The Fun"  Dr Cecily Neil - member RCM.  

Cecily’s career has been in aid projects including years on AusAid and the Asian Development Bank projects. Her main health and sanitation jobs included projects in Kiribati, Timor Leste, China, Vietnam and Philippines.

Getting a primary school toilet built in the remote Kalinga Province of northern Luzon is one thing; arriving on the spot is another.

The toilet block consisting of three-cubicle toilets with hand-washing stations is at Pantikian Elementary School in mountainous Kalinga Province. At a total budget of A$ 4,600, this sanitation project was funded by the Rotary Club of Hawthorn.   

Finished in December, the job was organized by Dr Cecily Neil through RAWCS D9800 and implemented on the ground by Sinangpad Association, a local Kalingan NGO. Cecily is from the Central Melbourne Rotary Club.

The trip, which she did twice last year (2017) involved two bone-shaking trips by bus and car from Manila Airport.

 “I’m a short person with a bung knee and couldn’t even get up the bus steps for the 11-hour trip. People lugged me on like a sack of potatoes,” she says.

 “We had the opening ceremony but the toilet was not finished till the next week because of massive rain. My trip back to the airport got us stuck behind rice lorries going over the mountains and masses of tricycles in the towns. I was sure I’d miss my flight.”

The project is small but the principles are vital – community involvement and ability to keep the toilet operational. For example, the children chose the wall and door colors and through organised games were taught handwashing and not to block the pipes, waste the water or damage the taps. Pantikian men provided the unskilled labour on a voluntary basis. The local Municipal Engineer supervised the work at all key construction points. The Parents and Teachers Assn members worked with and helped supervise the skilled laborers. Mothers took turns cooking and serving workers’ lunches. Others planted gardens around the toilet.

Worked at the school started in October, with the septic pit often flooding from rain. The store kept running out of materials and villagers lent nails, tiles, pipes and timber from their own homes.

 “Ensuring spare taps is important because taps are the first things to get broken and often don’t get replaced,” she says.

This year she also visited Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia as a relaxing holiday – although she was disconcerted on arrival at the hotel in Yerevan to find workmen replacing a bullet-ridden front door. The previous day there had been a shoot-out between two criminal gangs outside the building. 

Sinangpad NGO implements a Healthy Village Project which has worked in more than 60 isolated rural communities, helping residents to identify and remove local environmental risks to community health. The changes include construction of sanitary toilets to eliminate open defecation, improving  drainage, planting vegetable gardens and building concrete-floored pens for pigs that normally roam through the villages, contaminating the ground on which children play. Small grants go to enable the purchase of materials while the community provides the labor and maintenance.

Cecily’s career has been in aid projects including years on AusAid and the Asian Development Bank projects. Her main health and sanitation jobs included projects in Kiribati, Timor Leste, China, Vietnam and Philippines.

Cecily has worked with Sinangpad in Kalinga for 17 years. She says, “There’s lots of schools there with no proper toilets or toilets without a water supply. A few thousand dollars is all that’s needed. We go for very inexpensive jobs.”