Toilets and Hygiene for Cambodian Floating Schools

We will bring environmentally friendly toilets to the schools of four floating villages in Cambodia, improving lives.


The Issue

As children around the world head back to school, so do the young students living on Cambodia’s largest lake, the Tonle Sap. But two things are different for these kids: their houses and schools actually float on the lake! And, unlike most schools, theirs don’t have toilets, because until now, it hasn’t been possible to build one in a floating village, in their homes or their schools. Around the world, marginalized, landless populations live in floating dwellings, migrating with the seasons. Floating settlements are found in Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brazil, and many other nations. In Cambodia almost 100,000 people live in floating communities on the Tonle Sap Lake, with the vast majority having no access to a toilet.

There is also little awareness of the link between sanitation and health. People living in floating communities use the lake water for all their needs: bathing, washing, cooking, swimming, and drinking, and also as an open bathroom. Diarrhea-causing pathogens, including amoebic dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis, spread through contaminated water. In Cambodia, diarrheal diseases cause 1 in 7 deaths of children under 5 years of age, and those who survive frequent diarrheal episodes may suffer from developmental difficulties throughout their lives. Since the households float on water and migrate through the seasons, common sanitation technologies like pit latrines and sewers cannot be built.

The Floating Villages

Fig 1 : Dry season water quality is particularly poor in densely packed floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake and its tributaries, creating a toxic environment for child health. (T. Hand, 2014) 

While the number of Cambodian households with toilets has increased to almost 30% over the past few years, much of the efforts have targeted typical urban and rural areas. Little attention has been paid to “difficult” challenging environments such as floating villages. Simply, sanitation technologies that work in such environments have not been available

In floating villages, neither houses nor public buildings such as schools, have latrines. At best, a house may have a toilet pan that releases untreated feces directly into the water below. Lacking other options, that same water next to the family’s house is then used for washing, cleaning, and food preparation. A lack of privacy creates additional problems for women, and contributes to absences and higher school dropout rates among female students.

The Solution

To solve this issue, Wetlands Work! (WW!), a social enterprise in Cambodia, has developed the HandyPod, a revolutionary product that floats next to a waterborne house or school and treats the sewage. The World Toilet Organization (WTO) is working in partnership with WW! to pilot the HandyPod technology in floating villages in Cambodia’s Kampong Chhnang province, as the first step in making this vital technology available to floating communities around the world.

Aquatic plants in the HandyPod host root-bound microorganisms that help to break down waste and eliminate over 99.99% of fecal bacteria. The system is self-cleaning, does not require chemical inputs to function, is easy to use and maintain. A ceramic squat pan, familiar to most users from visits to land villages, is connected to the system. The complete HandyPod is low-cost and aesthetically pleasing.

For the past three and a half years, the HandyPod has been piloted in the floating village of Akol in Pursat province, Cambodia, in all of its 35 households. We now want to introduce the system to floating schools in other areas and need funding to ensure sustainable adoption of this novel technology.

Depending on the success of this campaign we want to bring the HandyPod to a floating school in Bangladesh, where sanitation is also a challenge in waterborne communities.

We have that solution but not the funding.

Fig 2: Community engagement activities are used to raise awareness of the benefits of household sanitation for child health and to explain how a HandyPod works. (Khon, 2015)

What are the objectives of the project?

1. Install HandyPods in four floating schools in Cambodia

2. Eliminate open defecation in the target schools by encouraging students to use toilet

3. Carry out sanitation and hygiene awareness programs in the schools and the communities at large, covering the importance of clean drinking water, handwashing, and the use of toilets

4. Reduce school absences due to diarrhea

5. Increase school attendance by girls

6. Provide an understanding of the supply-and-demand dynamics underlying the sanitation market in floating communities

7. Generate demand for toilets among floating households within the villages

The Schools and Students

We will install a HandyPod in each of the floating schools in four villages in Cambodia, and develop and implement a sanitation and hygiene education program in each school. The focus is on hygiene awareness and promotion strategies, ultimately stopping defecation into the lake. When school children learn about the importance of sanitation and good hygiene, they will bring this knowledge home to their families. As has been observed inland communities, after learning and experiencing the benefits of a toilet in school, students may encourage their parents to install a HandyPod latrine at their home too. Children can catalyze change by reaching out and raising awareness of sanitation and hygiene issues in their families, which has great potential to advance the demand for the HandyPod and improve hygiene and health in the communities.

As seen on…



FastCoexist (

Khmer Times (

Introducing…the Handypod

Revolutionary design and great for the environment!

Handy pod design

Fig 3: WW! concept sketch of the HandyPod wastewater treatment system for floating households. Sketch concept Copyright, WW!

Handy pod technology

Fig 4: The HandyPod provides an attractive, odorless, two-stage wastewater treatment process that can significantly improve local water quality and reduce the incidence of diarrheal diseases. (T. Hand, 2014)

Fig 5: A standard ceramic latrine pan with water trap, familiar to most users from visits to land villages and town, feeds into anaerobic digestor.

Fig 6: HandyPod attached to a floating house

Fig 7: HandyPod attached to floating house. Floating gardens are tended to nearby.

Fig 8: A floating house with a HandyPod. A simple tarp shelter provides privacy to users. Water quality is improved by treating sewage in the HandyPod.

How can you help?

We are raising the funds necessary to produce and install HandyPods at the schools in four villages, provide sanitation and hygiene awareness training, and promote adoption of this new technology within village households. We need to scale up the use of this revolutionary product on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, and begin its launch in other floating communities around Asia and beyond. It’s never been done before, anywhere in the world.

$25 – Cost and installation of a modern and clean ceramic toilet pan at a floating school

$100 – Materials to conduct sanitation hygiene and awareness campaign at a floating school

$200 – Floating plant-filled lagoon to treat wastewater

$300 – Floating anaerobic digestor to stabilize waste

$1000 – A year-long school and community education campaign in a floating village, promoting awareness of hygiene and sanitation

Fig 9: Students on their way home from school 

Join the global sanitation movement and let’s work together to make clean and safe toilets a priority!




As children around the world head back to school, so do the young students living on Cambodia’s largest lake, the Tonle Sap. But two things are different for these kids: their houses and schools actually float on the lake! And, unlike most schools, theirs don’t have toilets, because until now, it hasn’t been possible to build one in a floating village, in their homes or their schools.

Tipping Point Goal: $8,000

Total Funding Goal: $20,000

Tipping Point goal = $8,000

At tipping point, funds will be used to produce and install HandyPods, and run hygiene campaigns, in two schools and the wider communities on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. These funds would cover tailored design, manufacturing, and installation for each of the schools as well as training of key figures in the maintenance of the HandyPods. Sanitation campaigns will be held to raise awareness of the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitoring and evaluation activities will be conducted over the course of a year to better understand and improve on our efforts in the future.

This covers HandyPod production, installation and maintenance for one year in the schools and school-wide hygiene campaigns in these villages, as well as training in proper use. Costs also include labour and administration.

Ultimate goal = $20,000

The additional funding will be used to install HandyPods in two additional village schools, alongside hygiene awareness campaigns in the schools and the community. Monitoring will be carried out for a year after installation for all four schools, and the collected data will be used to make future sanitation efforts more effective. If the ultimate goal is reached, WTO and WW will travel to Bangladesh to install a HandyPod system at a floating school and conduct a sanitation and hygiene campaign, alongside a local partner.

Funding of $12,000 above our tipping point will allow us to produce, install and maintain HandyPods in schools in two more villages, and to install a HandyPod system in Bangladesh to begin piloting the technology outside of Cambodia.

kids students

Fig 10: Students swimming in the lake’s highly contaminated waters  

To recap, the funds will allow us to: 

– Provide sanitation and hygiene awareness programs in each community

– Students will learn to use and maintain toilets responsibly

– Cultivate in students the habit of using the toilet instead of “going” into the lake water

– Reduce number of school absences due to diarrhea and menstruation

– Gain an understanding of the supply-and-demand forces underlying the sanitation market in floating communities

– Obtain supplier, installer and consumer feedback on the HandyPod technology

– Generate demand for toilets in floating households, not just schools

– See more at:


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