Eating Out in Phnom Penh – My Favourite Restaurants

Eating out in restaurants back in Ireland or any other western county can be pricey and sometimes only happens on special occasions. And when I talk about eating out I don’t mean a take away from Lennox’s or Four Star Pizza. I mean going to a restaurant, sitting down, having food, a few beers and catching up with friends. This is what Phnom Penh does best!

There are hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants in PP to choose from, some better than others and some hidden gems that are rarely talked about by the expat community in order to keep off the backpacker trail.

TripAdvisor is a great way to visit some of the top places to eat in a city, but sometimes it doesn’t have everything, or some of the establishments do not receive the recognition that they deserve. It is good to use TripAdvisor as a guide, but don’t take is as Gospel!

The following are some of my favourite places to eat in PP:

  1. Chat and Chew – No. 54, St.172, Phnom Penh
    Owned by Sony and his wife, it is a nice small friendly place where you are always greeted with a smile, and if you’re luck you will get one of the two tables outside. The walls are decorated with various pictures of the Khmer culture, from Khmer boxing to the rural rice fields.
    Chat and Chew is a local spot for most Expats in PP who have tried a lot of different eateries in the city. It’s breakfast options vary from omelettes, to muesli to a full English Breakfast, and my personal favourite, egg and soldiers!
    Main courses are the main reason that the expat community keep coming to Chat and Chew. Burgers, pasta, pizza, salads and the Western Specialties such and Chicken Cordon Blue, Beef Wellington and BBQ Ribs are all top quality and ensure that you don’t leave hungry.

    Chicken Cordon Blue

    Chicken Cordon Blue

    Its local Asian and Khmer Menu offer some cheaper alternatives to the Western menu. Nasi Goreng, Fried Rice/Noodles, Khmer curry, Amok, Chicken and cashew are all available. The unique taste from each dish will ensure that the next time you return you will want to taste something new and see it can beat your last order.

    Nasi Goreng

    Nasi Goreng

  2. The Irish Place – Street 110, No. 119, Phnom Penh
    Phnom Penh’s equivalent to Cheers, the place where everyone knows your name. Ran by Pat Hurney from Dublin, Ireland, The Irish Place is the only TRUE Irish Bar in the city of Phnom Penh. The Irish Place is full of Expats who come for the cold beer, atmosphere and the FOOD!!
    Best option to order on the menu is the Fish and Chips. If you manage to fish this serving you are doing very well for yourself! (a half portion option is available)
    If you manage to wake up early, get yourself to The Irish Place for full Irish Breakfast, complete with tea and toast! This is by far the best breakfast in PP and luckily is still not too famous. But for sure the word will spread like wild fire!
    The toasted sandwiches are the best in town, proper bread, proper cheese and peppered ham that is second to none!

    Fish and Chips

    Fish and Chips

    FULL IRISH BREAKFAST

    FULL IRISH BREAKFAST

    The Irish Place also offers accommodation upstairs so be sure to check it out!

  3. Katy Peri’s Pizza – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc2IMxyLhAw
    First of all this is a mobile wood fired pizza oven that makes the best pizzas in PP! Hands Down! It only opens after dark because the guys who work there have other jobs in the morning. After 11pm it can be found on the corner of St 51 and St 172 and it will stay there until about 4am or until they run out
    So its location varies during the the week 5pm-10pm:
    Monday- Showbox
    Tuesday- Bluedog
    Wednesday –Bluedog
    Thursday – Showbox
    If I didn’t mention it already, this is the best pizza in PP! Small pizza’s start from $3 to $5 for a large! Words can’t justify the taste of this pizza. Just ask any person who lives in PP and they will tell you about it.
    It is usually consumed at about 3am after Howies or Love Bar. If you are lucky, you will get a seat and a table to eat off of.
  4. Restaurant 18 – St 108 (Next to the Night Market)
    This is a local Khmer beer garden style place where you can find all the local delicacies and free flowing Anchor! The menu is similar to a phone book and is full of pictures of the food that they have to offer. There is always a BBQ flaming in front of the restaurant, a fish tank that offers the freshest of fish and personal cook-it-yourself gas burners for soup or fried meats.
    Some of the best dishes on the menu are the fried frog, mango salad, battered prawns and the whole fried fish.
    With jugs of Anchor going for $2 a pop, it is a great place to meet with friends, chat, drink and eat before the night ahead

I’m starting to get hungry now so I’m going to stop!

Article for UCC Express

Building an Education and Community Centre in Rural Cambodia – http://www.scao-school.org

A lot of people in UCC do not even know this course exists, and a great majority of people do not even know what the course entails when I tell them. In fact when I tell them what I studied, I am usually met by a blank expressionless face. However since its establishment in 2005, this course has grown and developed in so many different ways. It attracts international recognition and interest from all over the world, from Asia to Africa and everywhere in-between. Graduates from this course are scattered all over the globe, in countries like Uganda, Myanmar, Cambodia and Mongolia, to name a few. It is a truly unique university course, and the first undergraduate course of its kind in Ireland.

I graduated from BSc International Development and Food Policy (IFDP) in UCC in 2012, and a passion to work overseas was something that grew within me during the four years of university. The course has a mandatory 6 month overseas work placement in a developing country in third year. My placement was in Kolkata, India. This was an amazing six months, and it is something that I will never forget. Being taken out of your comfort zone and dropped into one of the poorest cities in India is a real sink or swim moment. IFDP does not just educate you in the classroom through lectures, projects and assignments, it makes you think for yourself, develop your own ideas, plans and personally develop in ways that no other course does.

When I graduated in October 2012, I had to ask myself the same question that every other recent graduate asks, “What next?” There are a limited amount of answers to this question; do a Masters, get a job working in a shop or bar, look for a job in your field, emigrate, or go on the Dole. I on the other hand decided to look for alternatives to these options. I wanted something in my field of study and I wanted to go travelling. I found an Irish organization called SCOOP Foundation who was advertising for a volunteering position in rural Cambodia as the Development Officer for a small Cambodian NGO called SCAO. During the interview I was offered the position, and I decided to go for it, what other alternative did I have that was better than this? Looking back now, it was a life changing decision, and one of the best decisions I have ever made.

SCAO is a small organization that has only been established in the past five years. It runs two schools in rural areas just outside the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Combined the schools offer free English classes to over 500 children aged 4-22 years of age. The classes are thought by international volunteers who come from all over the world to work at SCAO. We also have computer classes in both schools with over 60 students learning how to use Word, PowerPoint, Excel, email and CV creation. Finally, our newest vocational training project is just a year old. The Hairdressing and Beautician Project already has 8 graduates, and currently 24 in partaking in the current class.

Since my arrival a year ago, we have made huge progress in community development in Som Roung village, where one of the SCAO schools are located. I designed a survey to find out what are the main struggles that face local families in the village every day. Three trends soon emerged from the survey; lack of access to clean water, lack of access to a toilet and lack of access to healthcare. So far we have implemented over 350 ceramic water filters into homes, thus giving over 1,500 men, women and children access to clean safe drinking water. We have constructed 11 toilets for some of the poorest families in the village and there are currently plans to construct more in the flood plains of the village. Finally we have developed an educational healthcare awareness program in the village that takes place every 3 months.

My next biggest project is by far the most difficult, but it is the one that will have the biggest impact. SCAO are currently funding for the construction for a new Education and Community Centre (ECC) in a rural village called Prey Ponror, located 25km northwest of Phnom Penh. This ECC will be as environmentally and financially sustainable as possible. The ECC will have solar panels on the roof to provide electricity for the school, a water harvesting system to reduce the use of water, and a school garden to provide vegetables for the school. Financially the ECC will be sustainable through the volunteers who come to stay and teach at the school.

The new ECC will run similar projects in Prey Ponror Village. In the school there will be free English classes for children of all ages and all levels of English. A computer room will be constructed and computer classes will take place on a daily basis.

The biggest obstacle to overcome in the construction of this school is the financial costs. SCAO has partner organisations that are going to be fundraising for the new ECC. However, this is just going to cover some of the costs. For the remaining costs we are looking to the international community to come together and to donate towards the construction of the school. www.scao-school.org is a website that is specially designed for the fundraising of the new ECC. On the website you can symbolically purchase items for the construction and furnishing of the ECC. People can purchase items from €2-€12,000 depending on their generosity. I would urge people to have a look at the website and to pass it on to their friends and family.

As SCAO is an organization that attracts volunteers of all ages and from all over the globe, volunteering offers an alternative summer to a J1 or inter-railing. If you are interested in volunteering for SCAO, check out www.savepoorchildreninasia.org

Don’t worry, I’m still here!

I said in my last post that I would try to write on here more often, but it has been a month since my last post, so ya, I didn’t keep that promise.

Well now I’ve been here over 11 months and there is still no end in sight. Life is good here. I have a nice apartment, two good jobs, making enough money to sustain a nice lifestyle and new prospects and projects popping up every week. If anyone reading this can give me a reason to come home, I’m listening! (And by the way I didn’t even mention the 30C weather here everyday, fresh tropical fruit and cheep beer)

So I have noticed a couple of changes here in SCAO and within Cambodia itself over the past few months. One thing that I have to get used to, and there is no way of changing this, is the constant turnover of volunteers. I have experienced this rotation of volunteers when I was in India. It is both a good and a bad thing. It is good because you get to meet a whole range of people from all over the world with all different personalities and stories behind them. You can strike up some really interesting conversations and discussions with people.However on the downside of things, with a constant change in people, it is hard to develop a strong friendship with someone who will be leaving in a couple of weeks. As I said, there is nothing I can do about this, but in SCAO at the moment we are lucky enough to have over a dozen long-term volunteers staying at the moment. This is really a great opportunity for SCAO to grow and develop internally. Our volunteer numbers have increased incredibly in the past 12 months. It really shows that SCAO is growing, which is a great reward for all the hard work we have all put in.

On the projects front:
After carrying out the Household Survey in Som Roung back in March, I found three areas that the local people struggled with on a daily basis;
1) Lack of access to clean drinking water
2) Lack of access to a toilet
3) Lack of access to healthcare
I set myself three goals and to help the people with these problems. I can look at the projects that I have implemented now and be very happy that I have made a difference through different projects. We have implemented 307 water filters into the Village and surrounding areas, giving over 1,500 people access to clean safe drinking water. We have built 11 toilets for the poorest families in the village and there are plans to implement more once the rainy season is over.

So now I have to look to the future and set myself some new goals. So here is what I have to achieve.

3rd School:
In colaboration with all of SCAO’s partner organisations we are building a 3rd SCAO school in Prey Ponror. So here is a bit of an insight into the village:

The location of SCAO’s 3rd School will be in the village of Prey Ponror located 25 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. There are 16 villages in close proximity to Prey Ponror Village, and all of these are within cycling distance to the location of the new SCAO School. Walking through the village is a pleasant experience with large coconut and palm trees lining the fields, and children playing games in the dirt road of the village.

Many of the villagers make their living from farming rice, selling goods or construction work. The houses in the village are those of your typical rural Cambodian house. A wooden structure elevated upon for poles, this design helps prevent the house from floods and it is cooler to sleep in at night. The area under the house is used as a communal area during the day, everything from cooking, eating and drinking to homework and selling goods.

We village does not have a running water system and in order for a family to get water, they need to dig a water well. From here it is a simple rope and bucket job to retrieve the water. Some of the wealthier households have their own private toilet but most of the village just use the open land.

Giving the children of the village access to free English and computer classes gives them the boost that they need to develop forward, complete High school, reach University and achieve an improved livelihood. SCAO can help Prey Ponror and the surrounding villages to develop as a community through the implementation of water filters and establishment of sanitary latrine system.

So this school will be similar to the school that we have been running in Som Roung. We will provide English and computer classes to the people of the village for free. The school itself will be very environmentally friendly with solar panels, water harvesting system, school garden and composting.

We have been setting up a website that is nearly finished, to attract donors to sponsor the school and the materials that are needed to furnish the school. People will be able to donate $5 – $12,000 through the website. I will post a separate blog post once this website is live.

Educational Tablets in Som Roung:
It had been a dream of mine for a while to get computer tablets into the New School and start a new way of educating children. Thanks to Rebekka and her uncle, this is now becoming a reality. Within the next two weeks the school in Som Roung will have internet access, one 10″ teacher’s tablet and fifteen 7″ student tablets. With this new technology in the classroom we can access more educational resources than ever before. It is a really exciting time for SCAO at the moment and once the project is up and running I will inform all of you how it is running.

Presenting to the Phnom Penh Rotary Club:
I was honoured to be asked to present SCAO to the Phnom Penh Rotary Club on the 25th October. Myself and Vibol both did the presentation in front of a group of around 20 people. I was happy with the presentation and the way that we showed the work that SCAO has done for the communities that they work in and what we are planning to do in the future in the way of the 3rd SCAO school. I was completly in shock when they presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation for talking to them. It is something that I wont forget.

Certificate of Appreciation from the Phnom Penh Rotary Club

Certificate of Appreciation from the Phnom Penh Rotary Club

Healthcare Month at SCAO-July

Healthcare month at SCAO was not something that was planned but it was something that just fell into place and ran very smoothly. It was the combination of Chris from Pacha Youth (USA) coming over for a two month period to help implement a healthcare project in Som Roung Village, and Ali and Ana from Estrellas-de-Camboya (Spain) who arrived with 200 toothbrushes and the skill to carry out eye-sight examinations. This combined with other projects that have been in the pipe-line, the month just fell together and every week there were two projects taking place.

Oral Health Education Classes- 1st – 5th July
These classes were carried out by Ali and Ana in the New School in Som Roung Village. They had brought over 200 toothbrushes and toothpaste from Dentaid from Spain. It is a common problem in Som Roung and all over Cambodia that children are eating too much junk food(crisps and sugar candy) and soft drinks loaded with sugar and chemicals (Samuri) It was agreed that Ali and Ana would give presentations to the older students and then work down to the younger students. The presentations were not given to the younger students because they would not be mature enough to grasp the concept of brushing your teeth three times a day.
The classes were carried out with the help of Vibol to ensure that all the students understood everything that was being explained to them. The main areas that were covered were.
1) Importance of brushing your teeth.
2) Basics of brushing your teeth and key points.
3) Theory of brushing your teeth.
The idea behind this project was to get the children into the habit of brushing their teeth on a daily basis.
There were 30 toothbrushes left over and these were distributed to people in the village.

Blood Samples- 8th July
As part of Chris’ research into the needs of the community he contacted 4 doctors in Phnom Penh to see if they could come out to Som Roung and take blood samples from 14 children. This was to test for various health related issues such as Vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, worms and protein deficiency. The project took three hours to complete and the blood samples were sent back to a lab in Phnom Penh to be analysed. The test results came back and indicated no immediate worries for the children, although some of the protein levels were below the level that they should have been.

Eye-sight Examinations- 9th July
It isn’t very common to see Cambodian people with glasses, and it is mainly down to a couple of factors. Firstly, people can not afford the glasses if they need them. Secondly, people may not know that something is wrong with them. Lastly, people may not know that there is a way of improving their eyesight.
Again Ali and Ana were heading this project with equipment and 60 eye glasses that were donated by Opti-Kas from Spain. The objective behind this project was to provide glasses to the children in the Centre that needed glasses, this would in turn help the children to read better in class and not fall behind because of their ability to see the board. All in all there were three children in the Centre that needed glasses. With 57 pairs of glasses remaining, Mr.Sameth spread the word around the community that surrounds the Centre. Soon there were a lot of older members of the community coming to get tested. Some were watchmakers, tailors, cooks, butchers or just interested in reading.
After finishing with the Centre and the neighbours, they took the glasses to Som Roung village where they continued with the eye examinations to the elder villagers, until they ran out of glasses.

Dental Visit to Cambodian World Family – 15th July
Through collaboration with Cambodian World Family, SCAO was able to organise a day for the Centre kids to travel out to their dental clinic and be seen by professional dentists. Here they received a general check up to see if there were any complications. Everything went well and none of the children had any problems. We are now in the process of bringing students from the Old School to CWF.

AIESEC Healthcare and Nutrition Workshops at the Old School – 17th July
AIESEC has always been working closely with SCAO by sending over volunteers to help out in English classes or in special projects. Here AIESEC sent several volunteers who are also medical students to the Old School to carry out workshops in the areas of healthcare and nutrition. There were some volunteers from China and Australia, but the majority of them were from Cambodia and studying in Phnom Penh. The workshops were carried out in Khmer to ensure that the workshops had the full impact that is needed.

 

Change or No Change- Election Time In Cambodia

Change or No Change??? That is the question and it is the chant that can be heard around the streets of Phnom Penh. Election time in any country is an important time, but when it is in a ‘developing’ country it is time of high tensions. You have a formula of people who are tired of being under-paid, under appreciated, living in poverty and facing corruption on a daily basis. Add this unhappiness to the tension of an election and you could have a recipe for disaster, tragedy and violence.

I have experienced an election in Kolkata, India in 2011 before. This election time was somewhat peaceful, besides the fact that a bomb was detonated around the corner from our apartment. However we found out that this detonation was just a show of power by one party and the bomb did not contain any ball-barrings or nails.

So here is a quick run down of the Cambodian general election 2013
The General Election will take place on the 28th July 2013 and there is an estimated 9.6 million Cambodians eligible to vote, however this is estimated by The National Election Committee (NEC), so numbers could not be correct. It has also been reported in some local newspapers that National Identification cards have been taken off people in the provinces. 
Cambodia has a 123-seat National Assembly, which is one of the largest in the world. The ruling party in government is the Cambodian People’s Party(CPP) who currently hold a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. The CPP is led by Hun Sen who has governed the party since the Vietnamese-backed owerthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) is the next biggest party, who’s leader is Sam Rainsy. He has been in exile since 2010 to avoid alleged crimes of racial incitement and destruction of property. From what I have researched he has been living in the USA and Paris. However in a recent turn of events Sam Rainsy has been granted a pardon from the King and is set to return to Phnom Penh on the 19th July at 9am. The CNRP has gathered a large youth following and the streets have been packed with chants of “lai m-pal” English:Number 7 (CNRP is number 7 on the ballot paper(the last on the ballot))

With Sam Rainsy’s return on Friday, there is a huge turn out expected to greet him at the airport. This new lease of life for the CNRP party also brings with it heightening tensions, and a repeat of the 1997 elections is best avoided. Here at the NGO we are taking all necessary precautions to ensure that all the volunteers know what to do and most importantly what not to do in the event of violence breaking out. Political demonstrations at the Cambodian level is something that is very interesting but also something that is best avoided. These are hotspots for attacks as it is a small area containing large masses of people. We are advising our volunteers to have a plan in action that may involve them leaving the county, Vietnam being the closest border to Phnom Penh.

Of course these are just precautions that we are taking, but it is necessary to be prepared for the worst, at the same time hoping that it doesn’t happen.

It is very much expected that CPP will win the election, with CNRP wanting to gain more seats in the National Assembly. A complete change of government is something that no one is predicting.

You have to ask the question, in this situation is ‘Change’ a good thing. Or would it just bring more devastation to a country that has suffered enough.

World Health Organisation visit

On the 4th of July myself and Chirs Westgard, from Pacha Youth, visited the World Health Organisation (WHO) for two separate meetings with their staff. Chris had arranged these meetings with the WHO and other organisations while he was still in the USA. He did this to ensure that he hit the ground running once he arrived for his 2 month stay at SCAO.

Our first meeting was with Tiffany Tsang, Health Policy, Planning and Finance, and Alex Ph Bartonoli, Harmonized Community Based Care. This was a meeting to gather information of what services healthcare services are already available in Cambodia and ways that we can access and utilise them. We informed them of our ideas and plans to bring in health professionals to provide healthcare education seminars to groups of families, involving healthy living habits, health eating, sanitation, oral hygiene, disease prevention and treatment, etc. They told us that The Ministry of Interior had in 2003 put together groups of 1-3 people (volunteers who are literate and respected) in every community in Cambodia that would be trained in basic health assessment and treatment. This group of volunteers would make up the Village Help Support Group (VHSG) and would act as the main contact between the community and nearest health centre. The VHSG are then able to obtain medical supplies from the health centres, such as condom, birth control, and oral rehydration sachets and then distribute them to the community. We are now looking into whether there is a VHSG present in Som Roung Village and if they are active. We were told that they may be established but just not active because there is no one there putting pressure on them to work. So we may have to be that pressure and support them in the services that should be provided in the community. The local health centre is supposed to have provided free vaccinations to everyone but when I went around carrying out the household survey some of the people said that their children didn’t receive any vaccinations. So this brings us to a point where we need to check if every individual child has received the necessary vaccination. From here we can see if there is a need for a mass vaccination day where we can get doctors out and vaccinations for all the children who need them.

Our second meeting was with Giorgia Paiella, Nutrition Specialist, World Health Organization. She stressed the importance of breaking the malnutrition problem that occurs with under-nourished mothers giving birth to babies that then develop health problems that are a direct result from being under nourished. He told us about a program that she worked on with the UN that targets the nutrition of the child from the very beginning, when it is first conceived. They say that the first 1000days (from when it is conceived) are the most important in the development of a child. This means targeting pregnant mothers through adding nutritional supplements to their diets, breast feeding properly, eating more healthy foods, and cooking proper meals. Something that she mentioned was cooking demonstrations, at these the community will learn how to cook proper meals with the right amount of vegetables and nutrients. This is an idea that has stuck in my mind and it is something that could be very easy to set up and implement. Proper breast feeding of a child is something that she stresses the importance of, she said that a lot of mothers only breast feed for 2 months after giving birth and then return to work usually in a garment factory. This means that the child cannot be breast fed and it is usually substituted for water or diluted formula.

Visiting the WHO was a great opportunity for me, and I am so happy that I got the chance to do it. Development work is something that I want to pursue as a career for the future. Image

Clean Drinking Water in Som Roung Village

After conducting the household survey for SCAO it was time to read through the information I had gathered and see what could be done. Some of the information that I was really shocking and sometimes very upsetting.

Household Survey with a young mother

Household Survey with a young mother

Some of the heads of households were only 22 years old, had 2 children under the age of 5, and was living on just over $60 a month. While reading this particular survey from this young mother, I can still remember carrying out the questions on a wooden table that was the family bed. This young family live in a wooden hut that some people in a Western society wouldn’t even store their lawn mower, but yet it, and many other huts like it, house families of over 5 people.

These families have no access to a toilet, thus resorting to using open land to defecate, and unable to wash their hands. This can then lead onto various different health problems and complications, resulting in the person unable to work or attend school, causing a financial loss to the family.

A poor family living in Som Roung with their house behind them

A poor family living in Som Roung with their house behind them

Access to basic healthcare was also a main point that the people in Som Roung Village wanted to see improved. If someone in the village gets sick, no matter what illness it is, (stomach ache, cough or a broken bone) they will go to see the local village ‘doctor’. This doctor has no medical experience but she is trusted within the community to heal people and make them feel better. (This is usually done in the form of various different painkillers) It is worth it to point out that this ‘doctor’ is also one of our students in the Hair Dressing project.

Access to clean safe drinking water is something that we all in Western society take for granted. Just imagine for one second that the tap that you have in your home provided you with water that may ultimately cause you to become very sick. With this water you would have to boil it, but imagine now you didn’t have a kettle, or even electricity. What now?? You have to build a fire, boil the water in order to kill all the bacteria and viruses, and then wait for it to cool down before you can drink it. Oh, by the way, its 38°C. This is what the people of Som Roung have to do several times a day, or well it was what they had to do! I provided an alternative!

The Facts: Cambodia

  • 19% of Cambodians still subsist on less than 1USD per day.
  • An estimated 39% of the rural population of the country uses unimproved drinking water sources.
  • Cambodia has an infant mortality rate of 82 per 1000 live births.
  • Diarrheal disease is the number one cause of death in children under 5 years of age in Cambodia.
    Source: UNICEF. (2006). Cambodia Statistics. Accessed 14 December 19, 2009

Water is a fundamental human need. It is estimated that one person needs 10-40 litres of clean, safe water a day for drinking, cooking, washing, and personal hygiene. Access to clean water is a step towards improving living standards. Education suffers when sick children miss school. Economic opportunities are routinely lost to the impacts of rampant illness and the time-consuming processes of acquiring water where it is not readily available. Children and women bear the brunt of these burdens.

While researching what my options were to improve the quality of water that the people of Som Roung are drinking I came across RDI Cambodia. RDI are a local Cambodian organisation that employ around 80 local staff, RDI are specialists in water treatment and have been in operation in Cambodia since 2003. As RDI were experienced in the area of water treatment, they were the perfect organisation to help us facilitate the project. After communicating with RDI several days we set in place a plan to attend training, a demonstration of the Ceramic Water Filters to the people of Som Roung and distribution of the water filters.

So how does the Ceramic Water Filter work??
Two processes are at work. Because the mixture of rice and clay produce small micro pores, parasites, amoebas, and large bacteria cannot flow through due to mechanical processes. Simply put, water can fit through the pores, most disease causing organisms cannot.  The coating of colloidal silver adds a chemical process to stop other bacteria. Together, this system eliminates 98% of the harmful diseases present in surface water.

The first part of this project was a visit to RDI Cambodia’s factory south of Phnom Penh. This was an all day visit from 9am until 4pm. Here we were given an extensive tour of the factory, and viewing the entire process that goes into the making of these ceramic water filters. After lunch RDI trained us on how to use, clean and maintain the filters correctly in order to ensure their lifespan. With this we were then able to return to the village and present this ceramic water filter to the people of the village.

When giving out the water filters to the people of the village, the most important thing to keep in mind is that if you give these filters out to people for free, they will not take care of it. Giving something to someone is charity, while charity is a good thing, it is not development. If people receive something for free they will not maintain it as well as they would if it was their own. However, if people pay a contribution towards something they will have a sense of ownership over the item, and they will treat it with respect and care for it. With this water filter project we asked for a contribution of $2 towards the $10 cost of the filter, with the remaining $8 being funded by our partner organisation, Pacha Youth Foundation in the US.

With a huge amount of help from the community board of Som Roung, we collected $2 off of 70 families who wanted to get water filters. For all of you that have never been to Cambodia, it has two currencies, Riel & US Dollar (4000 Riel = $1USD). Most of the villagers deal in Riel so by the end of collecting the money I had 560,000 Riel to count and organise. This money was literally a wad of money around 7 inches tall. None the less we had all the money collected and ready for the delivery of the filters.

Storing 70 water filters in the school was a tough job, but with the help of all the volunteers it was easily done. The next part of the project was distributing the filters to the people in the community that have ordered the filters. We organised that the people would come to the school on Saturday the 8th of June at 2pm. Here we would talk to them again about how to use, clean and maintain the water filters. This is the most important step in the project; if the people do not know how to do this correctly they will damage or break the filter, rendering the project a failure. There is one DVD that we use to show the people how to clean the filter properly; this DVD comes in the form of a green frog character with a high pitched voice. This is something that got the villagers attention and they learned through it too.

After Vibol carried out the presentation of the water filters it came time to hand them over to the people. After a month of hard work and organisation I would finally see these water filters being placed into the hands of the people in Som Roung, a village that I have fallen in love with. The smile on the faces of the people as they carried the filters out of the school is something that will stick with me forever. With 70 households now possessing a water filter and each family averaging 5 members per household, approximately 350 people in Som Roung now have access to clean safe drinking water.

This was my first project that I implemented from start to finish, and my achievement only dawned on me as I was driving out of the village back to Phnom Penh. I turned the corner by the Pagoda and hear a happy cheer from a stall at the side of the road. Three of the community board members saluting me with cold beers after a job well done.

This is not the end of the water filters project however. We are carrying out follow-ups of the families who received the water filters to ensure their correct use. We can also use this time with the families to get feedback on the filters and see if they have made any difference to their daily routine. We are also in the process of gathering more families to receive more filters, so it is hoped by the start of July we will have 50 more water filters in 50 more households.

Hopefully safe drinking water is the first of many steps in the development of Som Roung as a community. For me it was the first big achievement of the goals that I have set out for myself. The successful implementation if this project has propelled me forward to try to achieve more and help develop the village as best I can in the time I am here.

Still more work to be done

Still more work to be done

The success of this project would not have been achieved without the great help of Vibol, Mr. Sameth, the community board members of Som Roung, RDI Cambodia, and Pacha Youth Foundation. It just show that when you work together, you have no limits to what you can achieve!

Article for Bishopstown News

Bishopstown and Som Roung Village in Cambodia are nothing alike, but there are both places I proudly call home. I left Westgate Road on the 8th of December 2012 for the South East Asian country of Cambodia with a one way ticket.  Awaiting me was a job as the Development Officer for a small local organisation called Save Children in Asia Organisation (SCAO) in a small sleepy rural village outside Phnom Penh.

Myself in front of the School in Som Roung A.K.A. Home

Myself in front of the School in Som Roung A.K.A. Home

Having spent my early youth playing wall-ball and tip the can around Westgate Road, you could say that I had a normal childhood. I completed my Leaving Certificate in Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh in 2008 and then went on to study International Development and Food Policy BSc in University College Cork for four years. University is a time in your life that you really get to do what you are passionate for. It was during my time at university that my passion for development work shone through. It was here that I took on extra-curricular work in the International Development Society as well as organising a development showcase for an audience of over two hundred people that included the Ambassadors of Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

Ever since I was young I had the desire to travel and see the world first hand, this dream became a reality in university on my six month work placement in Kolkata, India. It was here that I worked with the teachers in small education coaching centres that tutored local disadvantaged children. Kolkata was a total new experience for me; it was my first time living in a developing country, and as far as Kolkata goes, it is one of the most impoverished in the world. It is however a very inspirational place, you can see families that have nothing but a plastic sheet over their heads, but their smiles stretch from ear to ear. It was here that I realised how unimportant materialistic items are in the bigger picture. These families have nothing but each other and they are some of the most genuinely happy people I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a cup of Chai with.

Working in Kolkata, India

Working in Kolkata, India

Returning home to Cork was a bigger culture shock than arriving in Kolkata, but with one year left in my degree I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got to travel again. This opportunity arose through the Dublin based organisation; The SCOOP Foundation, in the form of the Development Officer in their school (operated by SCAO) in Cambodia. The opportunity to travel and volunteer abroad again was something that I couldn’t pass up. I would encourage everyone to volunteer at least once, it does not necessarily need to be abroad, there are dozens of organisations around Cork looking for dedicated volunteers.

This was the first Christmas I have spent away from my family, and it coincided with my first English class.  This was not the typical Christmas I was used to back in Cork. Instead of exchanging presents with my family I was teaching fruits and vegetables to my class. Turkey, ham and gravy was replaced by pumpkin, rice and soy sauce. It was my first Christmas that I was away from home, but it is a Christmas that I will remember for the rest of my life.

So here I am writing this in sleepy Som Roung, the village itself has around 400 families, with the average livelihood being farmers (males) or garment workers (females). There are no paved roads or street light and livestock roam freely through the village. I live and work in a school with other volunteers who come from all over the world, varying from Ireland, Germany, China, Australia, Spain and many more. In the school we have 11 English classes daily, consisting of over 250 students, ranging in ages from 6-22 years old. We also run computer classes that give the students the opportunity to develop computer skills such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The most recent addition to the school is the new hairdressing project that trains 18 local students the skills of hair styling, make-up and nail design.

Pagoda in Som Roung

Pagoda in Som Roung

Since I have arrived I have begun a household survey of some of the poorest families in Som Roung. Through this survey I have discovered that the people lack 3 basic services, access to clean water, access to a toilet and access to healthcare treatment. By the time you are reading this article we will already have installed ceramic water filters into over 30 households, thus providing over 30 families with clean drinking water. We believe that this will reduce the number of water based illnesses and improve the livelihoods of the families. Further on down the line we have plans to build public toilets in order to improve the sanitation conditions in the village. As well as to put a roof on our school so we can start traditional dance and music classes for the children in the village.

Carrying out household surveys in the school

Carrying out household surveys in the school

So far I have been here 6 months, and I would not change a thing about it. It is a huge learning experience for me both professionally and personally. Travelling is something that will benefit you for the rest of your life. It is the people that you meet along your journey and the situations you find yourself in that help you grow prosper as a person.

If you would like to read some more you can follow my blog: https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/

Or check out the organisations’ website:  www.savepoorchildreninasia.org   www.thescoopfoundation .com