45 Blue Schools for Banteay Meanchey Province

In Banteay Meanchey, in the north-west of Cambodia, the rural population lives in very basic conditions. There is a lack of good hygiene, which exposes the children in particular to the risk of disease. Caritas Switzerland therefore works for better hygienic conditions in schools. The children get access to toilets and water and learn about ecologically responsible action and good hygiene practice through play. 

Insights into the Blue Schools predecessor project


Banteay Meanchey Province

Target group    
45 primary schools with 11,200 pupils and teachers

Funding requirement
832,679.00 Swiss francs

Project duration
01.06.2020 to 31.08.2023 

Project number

Project objective
45 primary schools with poor sanitary facilities and insufficient water supply are transformed into ‘Blue Schools’ by the end of the project. The children get access to toilets and water for hygiene and drinking. In addition, they learn about ecologically responsible action and good hygiene practice through play. The different methods and tools (posters, role play etc.) are described in detail in the training manual.



Background information

We Swiss are proud of our education system and our impeccable basic services. The health of our children is also important to us. So, the water bottle in a child’s school bag is a matter of course. ‘Drink regularly’, we remind our offspring. And ‘wash your hands after going to the toilet’. In our bathrooms and classrooms, fresh drinking water flows out of the tap, at all times and as much as each child wants. If the bladder is full, all primary school children can access clean, gender-separated WCs which they can use at any time. Afterwards, they can wash their hands with soap. 

Most Cambodian children can’t even dream of such privileges. More than 30 years after the end of the terror regime of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s education system is still suffering from the consequences. However, while school is still not compulsory today, almost all children attend classes at primary school level, even if irregularly. In rural areas, school attendance remains limited because children are often expected to help in the fields. Schools are often in a run-down condition, especially in rural areas. There are classrooms, but to relieve themselves, children often have to go behind, not inside, the dilapidated lavatory structure. There is usually no facility for washing their hands. And even where clean water might be available, the children would rather refrain from drinking it, so that they don’t get caught short with a full bladder, especially the girls. 
Cambodia has set itself the goal of providing sanitation to all the 7,000-plus primary schools in the country by 2023. In the particularly disadvantaged Banteay Meanchey province, only just a quarter of all 410 primary schools meet the minimum standards. 58 schools have no toilet, 124 have no running water. Drinking water is almost nowhere available.

The lack of hygiene has grave consequences for many children, but also for the environment. Caritas Switzerland considers the situation to be unacceptable and is committed to working for an improvement in the hygienic conditions in the schools.

Blue Schools pilot project

Banteay Meanchey is greatly impacted by climate change. Droughts and floods alternate and severely affect the livelihoods of the population engaged in agriculture. Since 2012, Caritas Switzerland has supported the communities in Banteay Meanchey to deal with the consequences of climate change and natural disasters. Some years ago, the authorities approached Caritas with the request to also work with the schools. In 2018, it was decided to carry out a three-year pilot project in which eight primary schools with 3,150 children and 100 teachers are transformed into so-called ‘Blue Schools’. In Blue Schools, the children learn about the connections between climate, ecology and health. In the school garden, the pupils learn how food production is closely related to an efficient use of natural resources. Through play, they improve their knowledge about healthy nutrition, organic methods of cultivation and sustainable use of land and water. An important topic in Blue Schools is the avoidance of plastic and the systematic recycling of reusable materials. 

First, the infrastructure is established in the form of child-friendly, gender-separated and easy-to-clean toilets, where possible with eco-soakaway beds. Also included are facilities for washing one’s hands with soap, fed by rainwater. Finally, filters are necessary for clean drinking water. At least as important as the construction measures are the behaviours that enable long-term use of the infrastructure, personal hygiene and clean school grounds. Caritas Switzerland has long expertise in the field of school hygiene and has developed its own training tool for this purpose: CHAST (Children Health and Sanitation Training). It includes a range of age-appropriate and playful modules through which the children discover and understand the connections between (un)hygienic practice and the consequences for health and the environment. The concept includes involving the teachers as well as the immediate environment (parents, snack sellers in the school grounds). The aim is to develop a comprehensive understanding of hygiene and ecological relationships among all those involved. 

The pilot project is a great success. Particularly gratifying is the strong commitment of the roughly 100 teaching staff, most of whom have worked with great commitment to support their schools. Most of the toilets are shiny clean, the school gardens are well-kept, and the school grounds are clean. The teachers, parents and public authorities also recognise the role of the children as change agents both in their families but also as pioneers for the subsequent generations. The project is so successful that Caritas Switzerland wants to support 45 more schools in Cambodia on their way to becoming Blue Schools in this project. This will benefit 11,200 primary school children and school staff.


What are we doing?

The project is implemented within the framework of the water consortium, an association of eight Swiss aid agencies (Caritas, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Swiss Red Cross, Swissaid, etc.). The water consortium is co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). From 2020 to 2023, the water consortium will implement the Blue Schools concept in 10 countries worldwide. Thanks to synergies and mutual exchanges of experience, the individual projects can increase their efficiency and further improve their approach. 

Caritas Switzerland is represented in the water consortium with this project in Cambodia. The 45 schools will be carefully chosen from 60 to 70 schools proposed by the school authorities. Decision-making criteria are not only the condition of the sanitary infrastructure, but above all the determination of the school management and the teaching staff to make a considerable extra commitment in the first months of the project.  

The pilot phase has served to test the Blue Schools concept and adapt it to the local conditions in Cambodia. Caritas Switzerland continues to work with two proven local partner organisations (SEADO and RCEDO) and maintains close contact with the school authorities. The cooperation ranges from planning and the selection of suitable schools to the transfer of supervisory duties and a contractual agreement on the budgeting of funds for the long-term maintenance of the infrastructure after the end of the project. 

The infrastructure is built by the German-Cambodian Non-profit Organisation ESC-BORDA which specialises in sanitary infrastructure in schools. If there are toilets, they are renovated, otherwise new ones are erected. The WC facilities include a toilet block each for girls and boys. Urine and excrement do not flow into the groundwater but are converted into fertiliser and thus support agriculture. The water for this purpose is collected as rainwater and where possible cleaned in a sewage treatment plant and reused in the garden. Each toilet block has a long washbasin with soap. The disabled-accessible facilities are designed so that they can be easily cleaned and maintained. The size of the infrastructure depends on the number of pupils and the conditions. The toilets are supplemented with a rainwater catchment system and water tanks. Usually, simple ceramic filters are sufficient for the production of drinking water. 

At the same time, the teachers are trained to teach the children an understanding of hygiene. The CHAST method has a wealth of teaching materials with games and other activities. In addition, courses are held on the correct use of sanitary systems, such as their cleaning and maintenance. Finally, the concept also includes the ecological treatment of waste as well as a garden. 

Caritas Switzerland considers hygienic schools to be an important basis for a healthy future. This project helps not only the current pupils, but also future generations of pupils and their families. Children take the newly acquired knowledge about hygiene, drinking water and ecology home and pass it on.


Caritas’ Climate Projects

People and their living conditions are at the centre of our climate projects. Our projects help the poorest people to cope with the consequences of climate change and the resulting weather extremes such as droughts and cyclones. We help smallholder families to achieve a high-yield harvest and develop new income sources despite the greatly changed conditions. Together with the population, we protect, preserve and rehabilitate natural resources such as lakes, forests and soils. In addition, we promote the sustainable and efficient use of energy, which enables families and entire communities to escape poverty.


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