The Floods of Phnom Penh

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!

Mekong Island

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Mekong Island

On Paddy’s Day we brought the kids to Mekong Island for a day trip to the beach. Sand castles were built and destroyed and skin was sunburnt, but it was a great day out!!

Songkran – The offspring of a water fight and a music festival!

DSC02592The only way to quickly describe Songkan to those who have not experienced it, is that it is a perfect mix of a 3 day music festival and a water fight, all taking place in city surroundings.

Songkran is celebrated in Thailand from the 13th to the 15th of April, which coincides with the traditional New Year celebrations all over South East Asia. It falls on the hottest time of year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season.  The traditional celebration of Songkran is throwing water over others; this is essentially to wash away the sins of the previous year and to start the New Year clean and pure.

Typically, as with the rest of Thailand, it has become over run with tourists and backpackers. This does add to the fun of the festival but at the same time it slowly eats away at the traditional Songkran. However the local Thai people don’t seem to mind this and even enjoy it more to hit Western targets with their water guns.

Our first introduction to Songkran in Chiang Mai was when we returned from our moto trip to Pai, we were bombarded with buckets of water as we drove down the highway into the city. Children who were just able to stand to grandparents all joined in, tossing buckets of water on passing vehicles.

Once we entered the city we hit a huge traffic jam around the moat area, this is where the main party takes place. It was here that we got stuck for an hour trying to manoeuvre our bikes in and out of the stationary traffic. It was a lot of fun though; people were all sitting on the back of pick-up trucks with barrels of water, soaking anybody in sight. The Thai people were respectful when they threw water, we had backpacks on so they would only throw water at our chest, in order to avoid wetting our bags, the Western tourists were not so forgiving though.

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When we made it back to our guesthouse we met some of the friends we had met on the train from Bangkok. I grabbed some beer and joined in on the festivities outside the guesthouse. We then returned our bikes and headed for the main area where the celebrations were taking place. Armed with water guns and buckets we headed straight towards the battlefield. Water was gathered from anywhere that you can find it, usually from passing pick-up trucks or else from the water in the moat. This water in the moat was not very clean water, in fact it has a very strong green colour to it, this however didn’t deter me from going to for a quick swim. By the time we reached the main area the sun was starting to set and the temperature started to drop, so as an alternative to a water fight we settled for a few beers instead.

Songkran is a water festival for people of all ages, it is a chance for older people to leave their childish side out and just have fun, and the children of course love any chance to throw water. Everybody walking through the streets of Chiang Mai during Songkran has a smile on their face, and to be honest, why wouldn’t you? You are taking part in one of the biggest water festivals in the world.

Of course no festival is complete without alcohol. The Thai authorities have however limited its availability during the festival. For example the main festival area where all the music stages are located is a strict no alcohol area, and the 7/11’s are prohibited from selling alcohol from 2pm-7pm. I presume this is in an attempt to lower the number of alcohol related incident that may hinder the enjoyment of the festival. There are of course bars open during the day, and this is where most of the drinking takes place during the day. However the alcohol consumption is not just done by the Western visitors, the local Thai’s also like to indulge. This seems to be a very traditional way of drinking; usually the family would sit down together over food and drink beer or rum and coke. It was very common to be walking around and to be offered a drink or a shot of rum, and of course that is very hard to turn down.DSC02594

Most of have been lucky enough to experience the feeling at the being front row of a concert, for those of you that don’t; you are missing out big time!! Being at the concert stages at Songkran is something surreal. The DJ is protected from the water by transparent plastic sheeting, beautiful girls are constantly spraying the crowd with power hoses, the water is ankle deep and the atmosphere is inexpressible. At one stage I turned around from the stage to see a pick-up truck stopped and people, including the drive, were climbing onto the roof. It took me 5 seconds to think about it and I went to join them. With a helping hand from someone on top of the roof, I joined them for a dance in the middle of all the traffic. This may have been the highlight of my Songkran, it was the last few hours of the festival and everyone was going crazy and I had the best spot in Chiang Mai.

Songkran is a festival like no other. If you get the chance to do it in your lifetime, just do it, no matter what age you are!

It was something that I can now tick off my bucket list!

Is it on yours?

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