Investing Her Sweat Equity

Following a week-long volunteering stint, banker Raya Papp takes six months off to work full time with our partner NGO in Cambodia.

The programme’s effort to provide consistent education on water and hygiene impressed Raya.

She couldn’t believe it would come down to drawing lots!

Raya Papp was ready and keen. In fact, she was psyched.

When she came across SIF’s Water for Life programme, it just "grabbed" her.

“To take an entire week completely devoted to volunteering, really roll up your sleeves, and do it in the field of water, was a no brainer,” said the American who was at the time working in the Singapore office of Deutsche Bank, a partner on the project.

Interested in water since she started swimming before she even turned one, the finance director specialising in strategy and annual planning quickly signed up with the bank’s CSR department.

But the response was overwhelming and Annie Yeo, Deutsche’s head of Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia, said a lottery might have to be held to decide who got to go.

In the end though, everyone who wanted to volunteer got to go.

Kick off

So in July 2010, Raya joined 20 colleagues to form the first team of volunteers for Water for Life.

Together, they helped kick off the SIF project – a collaboration with project sponsors Deutsche and Ngee Ann, along with partner NGO Water for Cambodia – that aims to provide more than 9,000 villagers convenient access to clean drinking water through the installation of 2,000 bio-sand water filters in the households of Dan Run and Dam Diek communes, about 50km outside of Siem Reap.

The project includes a basic literacy programme and capacity building of medical services.

To take an entire week completely devoted to volunteering, really roll up your sleeves, and do it in the field of water, was a no brainer

It’s not like volunteering was new to Raya. She had given her time to a variety of causes since she was in school. But something struck her about this initiative, the first one she had been involved with outside of the US.

I was pretty surprised at the thoughtfulness of how the Water for Life programme, and underlying it the Water for Cambodia organisation, was set up and what struck me was they were really doing smart things.

Explaining, she said what stood out was that the villagers had to contribute 10% of the cost of the filter – US$7 – and some “sweat equity”, helping to install the filters in their homes, so they would have a sense of ownership. They also had to sign a contract that allowed the water filter to be taken back if they were not using it or keeping it in good condition.

Going further

The programme’s effort to provide consistent education on water and hygiene also impressed Raya.

So impressed her that she was interested to stay involved with the programme even after returning to Singapore, and back to the US a few months later.

In October 2011, with Deutsche letting her take a sabbatical, she spent six months devoting herself full time to working with Water for Cambodia, using her financial and planning expertise to try to build on and expand “the great work” the small NGO had already done.

And far from patting herself on the back for having spent half a year helping to look into its processes and even becoming a member of its board, having worked on the ground and gotten a sense of the NGO landscape, she feels she now knows better how to help, and she’s looking to combine that knowledge with her banking skills to help even more.

Watch this space.

Raya Papp works for Deutsche Bank, one of the sponsors of our Water for Life project in Siem Reap. She also sits on the board of Water for Cambodia, whom we partner with to build and install the bio-sand water filters for the villagers.

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