Article for UCC Express

Building an Education and Community Centre in Rural Cambodia –

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. 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

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.


My Top 5 Blog Posts… 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:


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

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.

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!

5 Reasons Why Cambodia Is Better Than Ireland

I’ve been in Cambodia for just over 6 months now and to be perfectly honest it’s awesome. There have been a few bad times of course, but these are majorly outnumbered by the great times. Cambodia is a lot different to Home (Ireland), and each place has its positives and negatives, but here are a few reasons why I think Cambodia is better than Ireland.

1)The Weather – This is an easy one, I didn’t even have to try for that one. There are two seasons in Cambodia, dry season and rainy season. Simple! The dry season takes place from around November to May, and the May to October is rainy season. The rainy season isn’t even that rainy, about every day it rains for about 30 minutes to an hour. Thunder storms are regular but don’t cause too much disruption, and the temperature stays in the 30°C range and higher. A blue sky is almost guaranteed every day, and there is no need for any fake tan or sun beds! Back in Ireland you don’t know what the weather is going to be like in 20 minutes time!

Blue Sky in Som Roung

Blue Sky in Som Roung

2) Street food – This is something that Ireland is seriously lacking! And I don’t mean food that is available late at night for drunk people to munch on after the club. I mean readily available fresh street food that you can pick up for a couple of dollars. In Cambodia and most of Asia these street vendors are found everywhere, and they all offer different types of dishes. Some of the vendors even have small tables and chairs where you can sit and enjoy meal. Some of these dishes range from fried rice, fired noodles, noodle soup, fried meat, vegetables, and my personal favourite, pate. This pate is a fresh French baguette with sauce, dill, chives, papaya salad, chili and meat. Now I am not too sure what type of meat it is (possibly pork) but I know that it tastes amazing! Quick, fresh, simple tasty food readily available on the side of the street, served with a smile! None of this McDonalds, KFC or Burger King bullshit!

3)The People – Cambodia was voted the most friendly country in the world by Rough Guides and to be honest I can see why. The people here always have a smile on their face, and they are more than happy to help anyone who has a problem. I have heard these stories from tourists who have had problems with losing passports and bags. The Khmer people will go out of their way to help tourists in their country, but there are of course some people looking to take advantage of foreigners, but the majority are nice. I have seen this helpful nature first hand in the village of Som Roung. Families here will help their elderly neighbours with food, water, clothing and shelter. There is a great sense of community and the genuine want to help others.

Having a boogie with the guards

Having a boogie with the guards

4) The Police – First things first, and it is good for you to know this, the police in Cambodia sleep at night. What I mean by that is, they do not work at night! Yup they don’t work at night. So if you are going to have a problem try to make sure it happens during the day, but not between 12-3pm because it is very hot then, the police don’t like that either. The other times they are probably drunk. You can usually find the traffic police sitting on their motos under a tree by the side of the street. If you make a wrong turn or run a red light they will jump off the moto and start to wave you to the side of the street. Okay there are a few options you have now:

Drinking with the Police

Drinking with the Police

  • You can stop and they will probably issue you with a fine from anything from a dollar to $5, depending on their mood and how much they think they can get out of you. This will lead to some bargaining on the price of the fine, and sometimes they will accept a can of Coke as payment on a hot day.
  • Drive, just drive, if the police man has been a bit slow to his feet and you have a gap ahead of you in the traffic, take it! The police are not going to get on their motos and chase you; they are just far too lazy to do that. Then you are home and free, with no fine to pay!

Now don’t take all this advice from me, some people and police men might react differently, don’t hold me responsible for what happens. But could you imagine doing this in Ireland, or even the Gardaí acting in this way, could be interesting!

5) Drinking culture and Nightlife – There is none of this no buying alcohol after 10pm nonsense! Everyone know that all the fun happens after 10pm and you want more booze!! Some bars stay open here 24hours, and a can of Angkor is never too far away! But it is just the small little things that make it better here, you can sit on the Riverside and people come around with little ice boxes selling beer and other minerals. It is just generally accepted here for people to enjoy a beer in public, and what’s wrong with that. If you do that back in Ireland you are seen as a degenerate low life and will probably get fined for drinking in public!

Ireland might be nice and easy to live in, but it gets boring and monotonous with easy day that passes. Cambodia on the other hand, each day is an adventure and experience in itself.

You never know what lies beyond the door unless you open it!