Cambodia, next to Laos, is the poorest country in Southeast Asia. Although the country is finally recovering from the deep wounds inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, progress is slow. The majority of the rural population lives without electricity in the home, without basic sanitation (80% of the rural population do not have latrines) and without running water. Many homes or communities may have either a well or use a river or lake as their source of water for bathing, cooking and drinking. However, the water from either source is either polluted or still not fit to drink without being sanitized and boiled. Drinking water straight from the tap is a utopian dream to them, just like “Beam me up Scotty” is to many Americans.
But this is exactly what was accomplished by Blue Planet Network member, East Meets West, at Preah Bat Soramarith high school in rural Kampong Chhnang. The project was peer reviewed on Blue Planet Network to ensure the greatest chance for success. It was tracked on our site throughout implementation, and ongoing reports proudly show its true impact on the community.
This town lies almost in the center of Cambodia approximately a 3.5 hour ride north of the capital city Phnom Penh. This public high school, like the public hospital and a few hotels and businesses, is connected to the electricity grid. However, government orders mandate a daily power outage every afternoon for the entire town, as the country’s demand is higher than the supply. What is not in short supply is sun power.
So East Meets West conceived of building the first solar powered water sanitation tower in Cambodia. The electricity generated from the solar panels power both the pump for the water source (ground water from a 28 meter deep well) as well as the sanitation system. The tower was built with a capacity of 5000 liters per day and serves the 4000 students and 175 teachers at this school at a cost of $12,000.
Furthermore, pipes were laid to strategic spots on the school campus to deliver the clean water straight to the tap. And to top it all off the water is provided free to the students and teachers. This is indeed a utopian dream come true.
To educate the students and the families of the students on the importance of clean and safe drinking water and safe sanitation practices, the Vice Director of the school, Oeur Meng Chong, started a PEER WATER EDUCATOR program. As the water tower project had just been completed four weeks prior to my visit I had the privilege of meeting the first ten Peer Water Educators, an inspiring and very enthusiastic group of 16 and 17 year old boys and girls. The idea is to spread the word about the importance of safe drinking water practices and basic hygiene. They teach things as simple as always boiling the well water before drinking and washing hands with soap before food preparation and after using the latrine. At the time of my visit all of these students had ambitions to go on to university.
The photos of the boys playing with the water was the existing well that brings up plenty of water with the use of the circular hand crank. However, this water is not safe to drink. The students know this and use it to cool off in the ever present heat.
The two smaller boys with the buckets are fetching water for their families from the original school well. This well uses a lever hand crank. They cart the heavy buckets which they cannot lift by themselves home in the wagon. Presumably this family does not have a water well.