Insert Potty Humor Joke Here: Reflections from a Social Enterprise Field Study in Cambodia
Each year a mix of community members and PSU students travel to India or Cambodia with Impact Entrepreneurs to spend a few weeks working, learning and collaborating with social enterprises. This year the group is in Cambodia. Here are their stories.
By Devin Liebmann, 12/14/13
During our initial meeting with East Meets West to get oriented on our project, we poured over reams of data to try to get a feel for their operations. East Meets West offers rebates for people to install latrines. Initially these numbers seemed so far away and were not connected to anything. As we asked questions and dug into some of the data, our host, Kim Hor the Country Director for East Meets West in Cambodia, pulled up some pictures of the installations to illustrate a point. Suddenly everything made sense.
Seeing pictures of people standing in front of their newly constructed latrines breathed life into the cold hard statistics that we all like to throw around. Suddenly, the $100 USD written down on a piece of paper next to a blue thumbprint, leapt forth from the page as Kelly green tin roof and siding, solid concrete floors, 2 by 4’s, and a ceramic urn. Each of these details had been rolled up into that single, inflexible, unexpressive number with a dollar sign in front of it hiding each of these components. Smaller dollar figures revealed Tyvek stretched across bamboo and sticks to keep out wind and rain, a 5 gallon plastic bucket to hold water, and dirt floors. However, the same essential components as the more expensive latrines remained the same throughout. As each picture was opened, a slideshow of people’s stories unfolded before us.
The expressions on their faces were priceless, some squinting in the sun, others with knowing eyes patiently awaiting the end of the photo op, and even a few smiling, while clutching their rebate paperwork.
Each one of those individual numbers represents a story. A story of struggle, sickness, and ultimately triumph. Of the 313 households surveyed in Kampot Province, 65% did not have latrines prior to East Meets West beginning work there. Of those without latrines, 90% said it is because they cannot afford to buy a latrine. It is really important to maintain the connection between the numbers and the people that those numbers represent. In a world of information overload, large numbers begin to lose their meaning. We as human beings cannot easily grasp what each of these numbers truly represent without stories to go with each one or a photograph that can bring a particular data point to life. Tomorrow we will begin meeting these people to hear their wants, needs, and desires first hand.