For village head Um Cheung and his fellow villagers living in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia, the simple act of procuring a glass of water has always been a back-breaking chore.
Kbhal Tra Lach is a small idyllic village in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia. Villagers live in colourful painted houses built on high stilts, and dirt roads provide access to the numerous rice fields dotting the lands, on which most of the community work and eke out their living. As you walk past the rows of homes, life seems peaceful. Families rest in hammocks in the shade, children innocently play in the pools of muddy water that form in the rice fields.
But until this year, sickness and disease has plagued this small community, causing disruption to their health and their ability to work and make a living.
For village head Um Cheung and his fellow villagers, the simple act of procuring a glass of water has always been a back-breaking chore. It meant either walking to a well and carrying back heavy pails of water, or waiting for rainwater to collect or even siphoning muddy, rusty water from a pond, followed by collecting firewood to boil the water. Um Cheung and his family would often fall ill with typhoid and diarrhea because of the dirty water.
“When [we] fall ill, we have to spend money on traveling to the government clinic far from the village and for medication. It can cost US$50,” he says. A significant amount, considering most villagers here earn less than half that in a month. According to village teacher, Sot Sean, “When I get sick, I would even have to borrow money and pay back with interest."
A vicious cycle of falling ill and paying exorbitant amounts for medication meant that Um Cheung and his fellow villagers were unable to escape the poverty trap.
But something changed this year.
Since March 2012, groups of Singapore International Volunteers (SIV) have been visiting Kampong Speu to work with the villagers to provide access to clean drinking water. They are part of the Singapore International Foundation’s Water For Life programme, run in partnership with the Sao Sary Foundation, a local Cambodian NGO based in Kampong Speu. Funded by Ngee Ann Development, such volunteers have so far built and installed 61 bio-sand water filters. The aim is to build 1,400 filters over the next three years, to benefit 8,400 villagers across the province. To complement the programme, the SIF will also build four borehole wells and install sanitation facilities including latrines.
Seet Wing Gang is an SIV who went to Kampong Speu earlier this month. He applauds the sustainability of the programme. “What inspired me to be part of the Water For Life project is to see that the SIF has a long-term plan. We as volunteers work in small groups to contribute where we can in a meaningful way and in total we can help the community."
Wing Gang’s volunteer trip coincided with the official community launch of Water For Life (Kampong Speu). It was attended by officials from both Singapore and Cambodia, including guest of honor, S Premjith, Singapore Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, SIVs and some 150 local villagers.
Pov Ran, a rice farmer in Um Cheung’s village, has had a water filter in her home for four months. “I was the first in the village to have it, and neighbours and relatives would come and get filtered water from me." Typhoid and diarrhea are now a thing of the past for Pov Ran and her family.
For SIV Muhammed Yusof, who travelled alongside Wing Gang, this trip held special significance. It was his second trip to Kampong Speu, having also attended the inaugural volunteer mission in March 2012. On this trip, he visited the homes of the families he had installed water filters for, to see how they were doing.
Watching Yusuf’s reunion with the villagers was inspiring for fellow volunteer, Lim Jialing, “It's good to know that with the money he did not have to use towards medical bills, he can now support his family to go to school in Phnom Penh. They have financial space to get a family member education."
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