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

UPDATE – Its been too long!!

It’s been around two months now since I’ve updated this blog! I’ve been pretty busy so I just haven’t had the time to sit down and type something up. As I said I’ve been really busy, so this is what has been happening.

I’ve made the move from Som Roung into Phnom Penh. It is a lot different to the village but it is a nice change and it is certainly different. I’m living in a pretty central location in a 2 bedroom apartment with a nice balcony where I have set up my hammock!

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

Living room

Living room

Bedroom

Bedroom

The reason for this move is for financial reasons. If I want to stay in Cambodia and work with SCAO I need to start making some money. So as most Westerners in Cambodia I have taken up a position as a teacher. I am now working in CIA FIRST International School. I am teaching Grade 2 part-time, all the kids are between 6-10 years old. Their English is very good and the school is totally different to the school in Som Roung. The children in CIA all have iPad’s, iPhones and other gadgets that I could never afford. So I work from 8am until 11.30am so it is not too bad, the only bad thing is getting up early every morning. When I finish in CIA I usually go to Som Roung in the afternoon, this change is crazy. Going from CIA to Som Roung is something that I can’t really describe; you are going from rich kids in CIA to the poor children in Som Roung. There is one thing that I always say to people when they ask me about this difference, ‘Children are children, no matter how much money their families have’. Children are going to act like children all the time, and that’s the bottom line. I am not going to pass judgement on children because they come from a wealthy family.

So ya, since I’ve started working in CIA I have been up the walls. I have to adapt to this new job that I have never done before, lesson plans, and meeting curriculum standards. CIA is a great school with resources that are just amazing, 2 swimming pools, 3 computer labs, 2 basketball courts, fitness room and a great staff to work with. In the classroom we have a computer projector so this helps a lot when I am teaching.

After I finish teaching in CIA I usually head home, have some food and then nap for an hour. Having a nap is awesome! I really need it some days. After nap time I head out to SCAO to make sure that everything is running the way it should be. SCAO has been a very busy organisation in the past few weeks. We said goodbye to Julius, Lukas and Leyla who had been here for a year. They were very important in the running of SCAO and the two schools.

SCAO, has a huge project coming up in the future, and this is something that may see me staying here for another year or even more. A 3rd school!! This is huge for SCAO as well as myself. I am helping head the project, this includes putting together a project proposal, source funding, solar panels, design of the school, financial running of the school and finding local teachers to work in the school. So this is a major project for me to undertake and it is something that I really want to step up to and implement as best as I can!

Local House

Local House

Entrance to the Pagoda

Entrance to the Pagoda

Area around the village

Area around the village

3rd School Land

3rd School Land

3rd School Land

3rd School Land

Area around the village

Area around the village

Local House

Local House

Entrance to the Pagoda

Entrance to the Pagoda

There has also been some political violence here over the elections. This hasn’t affected me, luckily! But it is always something that we have to be vigilant about, and I have to keep an eye on the volunteers and ensure their safety!

I wanted to keep this post short and sweet but I want to try and put some more detailed posts up in the near future!

Depending on how busy I am!!

Back to the lesson plans for school in the morning!!

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.

 

My Top 5 Blog Posts…..so far

I’ve been writing my blog about living and working in Cambodia now for about 6 months. It is something that I really enjoy doing and I like hearing about people reading it back home. So far I have over 5,000 views and its steadily increasing. People from Iraq, Guadeloupe, Ecuador, Guam, Azerbaijan and Egypt have all clicked onto my blog along with the regulars from Ireland, Germany, Australia, Spain, USA and of course Cambodia.

So here are my Top 5 Blog Posts:

  1. https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/clean-drinking-water-in-som-roung-village/
  2. https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/5-reasons-why-cambodia-is-better-than-ireland/
  3. https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/to-volunteer-or-not-to-volunteer/
  4. https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/article-for-bishopstown-news/
  5. https://peterjamesdowney.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/volunteering-in-the-new-school-scoop-school-som-roung-village-cambodia/

I would like to take this opporunity to thank everyone who has been following my blog. Please share it with others!!

Handing out water filters

Handing out water filters

Volunteering at the SCAO New School in Som Roung Village, Cambodia

Living in a rural Cambodian village is a great experience; it is something that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Every volunteer that I have seen pass through the SCAO New School was loved living in the village. Even the people that would come out and visit the school for a few hours would fall in love with the people, the atmosphere and the all-round welcoming that is there.

Ana and Ali playing with some of the younger kids in front of the sch

Ana, Ali and Katie playing with some of the younger kids in front of the school

To say that the village is friendly is an understatement. Once you arrive into the village everyone is smiling, waving and the children are shouting ‘HELLO’ as you pass by. Even just meaningless errands like going to the shop put a smile on your face. It maybe the drunk neighbours inviting you for a few shots of rice wine or whisky, the child that never wears clothes doing the Gangnam Style dance or seeing a new litter of puppies in the house around the corner. The village is always buzzing with something going on, be it a wedding or just a regular party. Music is blasted from speakers for hours at a time and sometimes it begins at 4am.

Lunch with all the volunteers!

Lunch with all the volunteers!

Lunch is served up by Da at 11am and this is usually when everyone gathers around the table. Before this the volunteers are free to do what they like; go for real Khmer coffee, lots of ice and lots of sugar, do their washing or as Lukas likes to do, just sleep! The volunteers who stay at the New School don’t begin classes until 12pm, so it is different to life at the Old School where the computer class begins at 7.30am. Teachers and their classes are always organised before each week or whenever a new volunteer arrives, this ensures the smooth running of the school and makes sure that each volunteer has enough classes to keep them busy for the day. Each volunteer has an average of 2-3 hours teaching a day, this may not seem like a lot of work for one day, but if you add in the +35°C heat every day and dozens of screaming children you have a very tired teacher at the end of the day.

The classes run from 12.00-8.30pm from Monday to Wednesday and 12.00-6.30pm Thursday to Friday. Whenever volunteers don’t have class they are free to do what they like. Every volunteer is different, some volunteers like to stay in their room and read or go on the internet, others like to go explore the village and play with the children. Everyone has their own way of relaxing!

For me personally I like to chill out the front of the school and talk with Sovanred and Da. It is here that I really get the chance to bond with them, and try to get Visal to say my name! (He still hasn’t said it) I like this ‘down time’ away from work because it is real, I really get to know Sovanred and Da, things they like and don’t like, their opinions on politics, and what they would do to run things smoother. They are a great insight into the life of a Cambodian family. Well to be perfectly honest they are my Cambodian Family! Not so much as parental figures (because they are around my age) but more of an adopted brother and sister. I was nervous about telling Sovanred that I was to move out to Phnom Penh because I was getting a teaching job to finance my stay at SCAO. He understood my reasoning behind the job and the move to the city, but I could still sense that he was upset that I was leaving. I have made it my duty to make it back to the village see them as much as I can and to continue my community development work.

Visal, Sovanred and Da

Visal, Sovanred and Da

Some of the best times that volunteers have at the school does not take place in the classroom, it happens outside in the village during times that you wouldn’t expect. These are the times in a volunteers stay that the memories are made and the times that you don’t experience in these ‘package volunteer holidays’. It’s the times that you have with your students outside the classroom where you can act and play like a child too. It was only last week when there was an extremely heavy downpour that some of the kids ran past the gates shouting and trying to get out to play. As the start I didn’t even think about going into the rain, then I thought, Why the hell not??? So I emptied my pockets and joined them outside for a game of football and general horseplay in the rain.

Sometimes it is fun to act like a child again, and if you think about it, that’s the whole point of being a child, to have fun!

Whenever you get the opportunity to act like a child again, take it! You never know how often it will come around.

A Typical Phnom Penh Weekend

Its very cliché but its very true, ‘living for the weekend’. No matter what your work is, you want Friday to arrive as soon as possible and just let loose for the few days of freedom that you have.Nothing changes when you move to the other side of the world! Friday is Friday, but here in Cambodia it comes 6 hours earlier than it does in Ireland! So that’s a benefit!

Once Friday hits out in Som Roung, it is Creative Friday. This usually means, painting, drawing, jigsaw’s or movies with the students. So this is a nice way to ease yourself into the weekend mood. I finish my class at 2pm and unless there is something important to be done in the school, I will usually leave the village at about 3pm(after a noodle soup) Leaving the school on my moto, I usually stop to say goodbye to Sovanred, Da and Visal, who are usually chilling out the front with the neighbours. Switching on my iPod I drive out of the village waving to the students who are playing games out the front of the school and in neighbours gardens. Once I hit the main road it takes me around 45 minutes to do the 20km to Phnom Penh. I head straight for our usual guesthouse, ‘Grandview Guesthouse‘. We discovered this guesthouse around 4 months ago and it is has been the place of choice since then! Located in the Lakeside area, it is a quite and i bit of a run down area of the city, that in its good days used to be the main place to be in PP.

Grandview Guesthouse. Don;t let the name fool you, there used to be a ‘grand view’ of the Lake, but a few years ago the lake was sold to the Chinese and they filled it in with sand. They did this to try and build new buildings, complexes and a shopping centre, but to this day it just remains a big empty dry lake. To be perfectly honest we dont come here for the view, even if there was one.
We come here for 3 simple reasons;
1) It is cheap! That is thing that people look for when they are going to stay in a place, especially backpackers, you go for the cheapest option. So for $4 a night we get a room with either a big bed or two twin beds, and each room has its own bathroom attached and a big window. This mightn’t seem like much but what else do you need?? Your only using it for sleeping off a hangover!
2) The Staff! It has been over 4 months now that we have been staying there every weekend, so the staff in there know is pretty well!! After all we are their best customers. Every time we walk in the door they are happy to see some regular faces walking in the door. We have become such good friends with them that one of the guys invited us to his sisters wedding that was taking place 40km outside PP. This was a great honour for us, after all we are just guests in their guesthouse! So ya it is safe to say that we have become quite good friends with them!
3) The Lounge area! This is a big open area that most guesthouses around PP lack. It is a nice area with loads of couches, wifi, TV and a pool table. However it is the food and how fast it is served that makes this place special! The food is very cheap and I have no idea how it comes out so quickly! And if you want to make some small alterations to a dish there are no issues!

So after checking in to the guesthouse I usually find myself in the lounge area doing a few pieces of work that need good internet in order to get completed, while having an ice cold Klang beer, of course! (its the weekend) I usually hang out there for a while and wait of the rest of the volunteers to arrive in to decide on what we will do for the night!

The Pub Crawl- After having a few warm up drinks while playing pool in the guesthouse we usually head for 65! This is a small Khmer restaurant on the side of a side street. Now before I get into more detail, the name of the bar is not actually 65, its some Khmer name. We call it 65 because a jug of beer there is 6500 Riel ($1.60) which is pretty damn cheap! So after a few jugs in 65 we head towards the next bar! This bar is the bar that will make or break your night, you will either go out and have a great night, or go out and have an awesome night and not remember a thing!!
Mekong River Bar- Again I have been going here for the 7 months that I have been in Cambodia, almost every weekend. So the bar tenders in there know us all and know that when we order a cocktail that we want it Klang!(strong) This is another great thing about this bar, the cocktails cost $1.75 each! But only during happy hours which are 7am-Closing time. The Long Island Iced Tea in this place will kill you the next morning, especially if you have three! It is basically like a shot of rum, tequila, gin and vodka mixed into one glass with a drop of Coke for the colour. So ya, 4 shots in one glass is going to ruin you, but in the good way!! We usually leave at closing time, just after midnight, and head around the corner to the next establishment for a sing song!
Heartbreak– Ahhhhh Heartbreak……where to start with this one? Julius’ first love, singing and not giving a shit, turning the bar into our own little club, and just generally having a mess!! They have a TV located above the bar and a song book that you can choose which song you want to butcher! Some of the faviroutes are anything by The Beatles, Better Man, Hotel California, She’s The One and Save Tonight. We usually stay here for an hour or two  our until the owners get sick of our singing and turn off the music! Next stop is the night club area.
Street 51– This street is home to Sorya Mall, which houses dozens of bars in an open air shopping centre. Our personal favourite is Swiss Bar, which serves tasty food and refreshing beer! The bar tender Chaly is a legend and every time I walk in he immediately hugs me and asks if I want my regular Vodka and Sprite. This bar allows you to put on your own music on Youtube and play pool for free. Its a nice area to top up on your alcohol before the nightclub!
Heart of Darkness/Pontoon– These are the two main clubs in PP that all the people go to. Heart of Darkness is always free in, and Pontoon charges $6 before 4am. Pontoon is the better of the two clubs but given the state you are going to be in this stage, you won’t even know where you are!

So this is your typical Friday and Saturday night in Phnom Penh. The rest of your weekend depends on how hard you like to drink and how well you handle your hangovers!

During the weekends then when you have time to spare there are a lot of other activities that you can do to pass the time.

There are 4 cinemas in Phnom Penh that we go to. Two of them are big multiplex cinemas that show the big blockbusters and some movies in 3D. The cinema here costs between $3-6 for a show and you can get your popcorn and coke in there for a reasonable price compared to back home. The other two cinemas are independent cinemas called The Flicks and The Empire, these cinemas are small and very comfortable. You can drink beer or wine while you watch some of its alternative and independent films. The seating in these two cinemas is what really makes it, there are huge cushioned floor that you can lay down on with pillows, to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Entry to these cinemas is $3.50 and you can stay for as many showings as you like (3 showings per day) This is a great way to eat away some hours in the city.

Massages- South East Asia is famous for its massages. They are cheap and places can be found all over the city. Prices can range from $4-15 depending on the place and the treatment. Our place of choice on the weekends is Long Beach Plaza Hotel AKA Plaza. Here you only pay for your massage ($6-8) and you get a swimming pool, gym, sauna, steam room, hot and cold tub and as much iced tea as you can drink. There are two sections to this spa, one for men and one for women, so it is a nice time to take a chill and just chat with the lads about the mischief that we got up to the night before. This is by far the best way to cure a hangover, just walk straight into the sauna and sweat out all the toxins that you poisoned yourself with the night before.

Obviously there is a whole section that I could write on food to fill in this section but I am going to leave that for another more detailed post.

So ya that is an insight into my average weekend in the great city of Phnom Penh! If you have any places to add leave a comment!

Most people who pass through Phnom Penh don’t like it, but give it the time it deserves and you will fall in love with the chaos, the people and everything in between!

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!