Caring What They Drink

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PUC and BSU students working together to install the 3 tons of sand in the community water treatment system.

One of the great pleasures of working on water relief projects in Cambodia has been working with teams of people with a common purpose to help solve water issues for villages. The Bridgewater State University alternative spring break trip was another chapter in this experience.

BSU and PUC Community Water Installation Team

BSU and PUC Community Water Installation Team

Seven students from BSU under the direction of Dr. Wing-Kai To, Asian Studies Director at BSU, came to help me and a team of Pannasastra University students to install a community water treatment system for Tropung Sdoc village, Roveang Commune, Samrong District in Takeo Province.

BSU students working with children from Topung Sdoc village to wash 3 tons of sand.

BSU students working with children from Tropung Sdoc village to wash 3 tons of sand.

It was a whirlwind tour of experiencing Cambodia, visiting an orphanage, a urban slum school, then hard work installing the community treatment system and then dashing up to Siem Reap on a 7 hour bus ride for a morning of installing biosand filters with Water for Cambodia.

BSU Team Helping Water for Cambodia install a biosand filter in Banteay Srey village

BSU Team Helping Water for Cambodia install a biosand filter in Banteay Srey village

Their last day ended with a power tour of Bayon temple and Angkor Wat before jumping on a plane back to Bridgewater that same night. The results were inspiring and the experiences unforgettable. Amazing what can happen in just 8 days. The ripple of their impact went wide and very deep…..in each person.

Meeting Mr. Chum Mey, one of the last survivors from the Toul Sleng S-21 prison.

Meeting Mr. Chum Mey, one of the last survivors from the Toul Sleng S-21 prison.

The BSU at the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom

The BSU at the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom

Helping with a yoga class at the EYC Aziza School

Helping with a yoga class at the EYC Aziza School

Hunting a Silent, Invisible Killer

Sampling with Pigs Voicing Disapproval. Notice the School Across the Road.

Sampling with Pigs Voicing Disapproval. Notice the School Across the Road.

This project started almost a year ago by a “chance encounter” at a Khmer wedding.   On the way out of the reception the groom wanted us to meet his parents.  ‘My dad works on water in Kampong Thom province’.   I said, “What!   You never told me your dad works on water”.  And in an instant we connected and learned about a need his dad had to test wells in his district for arsenic.  No one had helped on this…….yet.   That was April last year.  So at the end of February, a group of Pannasastra University (PUC) students and former students I had taught from PUC in 2009 and 2013 were off to test 44 wells to hunt for an invisible, tasteless, odorless silent killer…….arsenic.Suspicious Source   Mam Vuth had gained much experience testing wells and building treatment systems for arsenic since we had worked together at PUC in 2010 at Prey Veng province.   Now he works like the field commander.  Our collaborator in this venture was the groom at the wedding who is the director for an NGO that helps villages in Kampong Thom.   We had our team trained on procedures but as always things change once you get out and see the real landscape.

Vuth Coordinating PUC Student Volunteers

Vuth Coordinating PUC Student Volunteers

It’s like detective work using your experience from the past and knowledge of where arsenic might be holed up in some deep pocket of water and sediment that was loaded with some arsenic many years ago during some monsoon flooding that inundated parts of Cambodia.   Arsenic is a big problem along the Lower Mekong Delta and especially along the Tonle Basaac, and Mekong Rivers near Kandall and Prey Veng provinces.

Vuth Explaining the New Sampling Strategy

Vuth Explaining the New Sampling Strategy

  But we were far away from this hotspot in Kampong Thom.  But not far from the Tonle Sap Lake and the Steung Sen River.  So we asked a lot of questions of the local village chiefs and district officers that had made original sampling plan for selected villages in Kampong Ker and Sroryov Communes.  We had some knowledge that our culprit might not be hiding just anywhere in Steung Sen district.   Where were villages on the list of 18 proposed that were closer to the Steung Sen?  Closest to the rivers?   So after much discussion and explanation,  a strategic plan was devised for this first attempt to find wells where the odorless, tasteless, invisible culprit might be hiding.  And the hunt began.   We only got 8 wells tested the first afternoon but it gave us some critical data.

PUC Students Sampling for Arsenic

PUC Students Sampling for Arsenic

 The culprit was hiding in  three of the eight wells at levels 2.5 to  6.8 times higher than the WHO health guideline of 10 ppb.  Yes arsenic had been hiding undetected in some pockets. 

PUC Students Searching for the Silent Killer

PUC Students Searching for the Silent Killer

One of these wells was being used every day by 4 families and over 200 school children every day.    The word was out now and the hunt continued the next day.   We encountered and amazing array of well types with pigs and water buffalo scrutinizing our every move and voicing strong disapproval!  Oink!

Heavy Traffic Crossing

Heavy Traffic Crossing

Return of the Duck Herders

Return of the Duck Herders

When it was all done the next day, the Ministry of Water and Meteorology now had data on 10 wells that warranted concern and notification and a plan on how to protect the health of the people and livestock using them.   PUC students gained an immense amount of personal satisfaction that they had made a significant contribution to helping Cambodian people in these communes.   Best of all, was the awareness.  People had information to act on now so our odorless , tasteless, invisible culprit was no longer able to skulk around the groundwater undetected.   Oink! Oink!

PUC Team with Village Chief

Catching Drops of Relief

Children and Staff at Plong Primary School Celebrating Rainwater Collection System

Children and Staff at Plong Primary School Celebrating Rainwater Collection System

Many months have passed since our last entry about our journey in Cambodia.   Since April last year we returned to teach at Bridgewater State University and recruited a team of 15 BSU students and two faculty colleagues to return to Cambodia for an 18 day study tour on water issues in Cambodia from 2 to 19 January 2014. One of the many blessings of our journey in Cambodia has been the privilege of helping communities with drinking water needs.   Before we left Cambodia last year, we had a “chance” encounter with the executive director of Genesis Community of Transformation (GCT).   This blossomed into a unique opportunity to help two schools in Sre Ambel district in Koh Kong province.  Unlike many of the areas we have worked in Cambodia,  Sre Ambel  is close to the coast in the Southwestern part of Cambodia.???????????????????????????????  Many wells here dry up during the dry season and attempts to dig wells deeper often result in salt water intrusions because of their close proximity to coastal areas along the Gulf of Thailand.  Our trip in early February was a wonderful opportunity to see the results of collaboration between Bridgewater State University (BSU), Pannasastra University (PUC) and GCT.  In July of 2013, GCT worked with the NGO known as Rainwater Cambodia (www.rainwatercambodia.org) to help us provide a rainwater collection system for Plong Village Primary School in Sre Ambel district.

Staff from GCT with Plong students and principal

Staff from GCT with Plong students and principal

Students that I had trained in my Freshwater Ecology course at PUC went to the school to train all of these students on the importance of pure drinking water and proper hygiene.   The school serves 200 children from age 5 -12 and 195 families.  It has been a growing project of an extremely dedicated man who has been the principal there for almost 30 years. 

Plong Primary School Principal at Drinking and Washing Station

Plong Primary School Principal at Drinking and Washing Station

He started with a small wooden school building after the war with Khmer Rouge ended and has grown this school to what it is today.   Our project for his school was completed in July and now these children have drinking water and a hand-washing station at the school. 

Handwashing and Drinking Water Station with Rainwater Collection system at Plong School

Handwashing and Drinking Water Station with Rainwater Collection system at Plong School

Water never tasted so good

Water never tasted so good

Previously, there was nothing and no water from December until the beginning of the rainy season in April.  We got to see the system in operation and had great chance to meet with the teachers and the members of the Rainwater System Management Committee for Plong School.  Through the great work of GCT in this community, the principal has the satisfaction that his students now have the water they need for drinking and hygiene. 

Plong School Rainwater System Committee

Plong School Rainwater System Committee

Now we have the privilege of working with GCT again to meet the needs of Phnom Sralav Village Primary School in Sre Ambel district.  If all goes well, BSU will work with PUC students to help on this rainwater tank system from Rainwater Cambodia and see the system completed by Khmer New Year 2014.

Planning Team at Saray Primary School

Planning Team at Saray Primary School

  This will be a great relief for the 355 students at the school from Kampong Sdam, Phom Sralav and Saray villages.  Water to drink,…. water to wash your hands.  We take it so much for granted.  Not here.

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Stressed??? Try a Jungle Retreat!!

River to the jungle retreat!

River to the jungle retreat!

??????????????????????????????? It’s been while since we logged in to the Chronicles so I have a backlog of stories to log in before we set “sail” for home this week. We really wanted to see some more of the remote areas of Cambodia so it sounded like a great idea to get out of Phnom Penh after Khmer New Year and hide out in the jungle of Koh Kong province. We had a challenging 5 hour bus ride in the pouring rain to Koh Kong with both of us experiencing some kind of gastrointestinal revenge from a “favorite” Chinese restaurant of some of our friends the day before. ONE STOP! Can you make it!!!!!????? We did. The rest of ride was more relaxed. We had two restful days in Koh Kong exploring the largest protected Mangrove Swamp in Southeast Asia between downpours. Remember its rainy season. Then we headed out to our jungle retreat on the river near Ta Tai Falls. It’s a controversial location in the jungle because its very close to a joint hydroelectric dam being built as a joint venture between Thailand, China and Cambodia in one of the most biodiverse areas of the Cardamon Mountains. It’s an “economic development” concession for the benefit of Cambodia since all of the electricity will go to Thailand. Yes, that is correct. If you want to learn more, go to the International Rivers web page and check it out.
Our jungle retreat was great. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a bridge at the river shown here and waited until our boat taxi came to pick us up an ferry us to the lodge. You can see the dot in the photo of the boat coming. The lodge was literally in the jungle and had elevated walkways to minimize the amount of water you had to walk through and the critters that might to lay around your path. Yes there are some poisonous snakes in this area and we were instructed what to do as well as signing papers on who to call “in case” there was an emergency! Had a nice lime drink though while we were signing these papers. The river was great and we paddled a two person kayak upriver to explore. We decided to sign up for the guided jungle walk for the next day to Ta Tai falls and paddle back to our camp. ???????????????????????????????It was a great hike and challenging in ways we least expected. We were warned by a family that had hiked it the day before that it was the rainy season now and to watch out for the ………….leeches. YES! So we thought you might like to see a few photos of our adventure on the guided “feeding”, oh sorry, “hiking” tour through the jungle. Notice our well dressed hiking companions in shorts! Of course we thought we were being really prepared wearing long pants, long sleeves, socks covering our pants and bug spray.

What are these people looking for?????

What are these people looking for?????

Boy were we in for a surprise when we discovered leeches had burrowed through our socks and fallen down our shirts from the trees. That one “hitch-hiked” all the way to Ta Tai falls and was not “discovered” until I took my shirt off and this very fat leech fell onto the very hot rocks that had been baking all morning in the 40C weather.

Not a sign post in the jungle!

Not a sign post in the jungle!

I made sure he “stayed” on the rock until he was nice and “dehydrated”. So we had a great trip and if you ever want to get de-stressed as well as de-sanguinated, I have the place for you!KohKong_JungleWalk_Ants??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Made it!! Ta Tail Falls

Made it!! Ta Tail Falls

Never Forget: Reflections of 7 January

???????????????????????????????This is the day Cambodia remembers it victory over the genocide of the Pol Pot regime.  We journeyed to the Toul Sleng Genocide museum in Phnom Penh for a sobering tour of the suffering that Cambodia endured under the Khmer Rouge.   Unfortunately even at this place of immense evil, a former school,  something that was meant to refresh was used for torture.  Water.  The water gallows is where prisoners hung upside down while they were interrogated and tortured.  If they passed out, then they were dunked into these jars filled with an awful mixture of manure and water.  Of course, that was only one of the many atrocities that were committed here against the Khmer people.  There was a lot to reflect on here. Reflections_Toul Sleng 2013 Yet in the midst of all these dark memories was a survivor.  We had met Mr. Chum Mey last year and I had wondered if he was still with us and on this side of eternity.  And there he was.  Telling visitors his story and educating people about all that had happened here so that it would never happen again.  Yet many still have occurred since Toul Sleng in other parts of the world.  But Chum Mey never gives up hope.  Focused on changing one person at a time and helping those that suffered.   A lot to reflect on here.  Inspiring.???????????????????????????????

Essence of Morning Glories!

Harvest of Morning Glories
It’s been a while since we last recorded some of our travels in Cambodia in the Chronicles. Two teams of BSU students journeyed with us this year on January 2. Dr. Jenna Mendell brought a team of four undergraduate research students who did some microbiological research on a new Light Biosand Filter Design developed by Water for Cambodia. We also had eight new students with us on the Kingdom of Water Tour . Fourteen hours is a long journey from JFK airport to Incheon in Korea and then another 5 hours to Phnom Penh. As usual, the Golden Gate hotel staff were extremely helpful and our time spent in Phnom Penh learning basic Khmer, touring wetlands and sewers and serving in orphanages and after school programs around the city was a rich and rewarding experience.??????????????????????????????? Even encountering the essence of the Boeng Choeng Ek wetlands . Let’s say the outfall from Tra Bek Lake where the wetlands begin processing most of the wastewater from the city of Phnom Penh has a unique aroma. Really! Just don’t eat the morning glories they grow hydroponically in the wastewater in the wetland. It’s on many of the menus in restaurants in the city. Really!???????????????????????????????

OutWASH

OutWASH
Helping break the cycle of water borne illness in developing countries requires more than providing clean drinking water. That part is essential to be healthy but staying healthy is where the WASH comes in. People need to wash certainly but they also need to understand the basics of WAter and Sanitation and Hygiene. In Cambodia many NGO’s like Water for Cambodia, Samaritan’s Purse, and Clear Cambodia are doing outreach programs so people can understand “ch’long may roak” or how bad bacteria is transmitted in water and to people. Recently, I had an opportunity to work with the staff of Pioneering Partners Cambodia (PPC) on using some large flipchart cartoons with Khmer subtitles to do some WASH training. They had introduced us to Taok Ma village in Kandal Province last year and recently had been able to distribute ceramic water filters to 64 village homes there as a result of a donation from a group from the UK. This was a huge step forward in promoting the use of clean water but we observed some habits that indicated a need for WASH education in the village. The cartoon posters I had used to train the PPC staff to work in the village were materials I had received during training with the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) in Calgary. The PPC staff thought the posters were very good and were excited about using them in their village work. The strategy was to work with my team of students from Pannasastra University(PUC) in Phnom Penh to test some of the village wells and the water from the filters to demonstrate their value and to do some preliminary screening for arsenic contamination. However, the real challenge was something I had not anticipated. They wanted me to do the presentation in Taok Ma village,…….in Khmer. I said I would try if they helped me fill in the gaps and made sure I didn’t put “my foot in my mouth” culturally. Besides feet in your mouth is a really bad WASH demonstration anyway!
So the planning began and on 22 March, World Water Day, six of my PUC students went with me and two PPC staff to sample the wells and household filters at Taok Ma village and do the sample processing at the new water lab at the PUC Toul Kork campus. It was a long day of work but really significant in helping raise village awareness about the quality of their drinking water and its relationship to their health. As expected there were low levels of bacteria in some of the wells and the filters were doing a good job on bacterial removal for the most part. But the surprise came from the “one extra” house that was not on the schedule. We had parked our vehicles there to walk in the rest of the way to do our work. When we were packing up to go to the lab, my PUC students were conversing with the family and they wondered why we had not tested their well. Of course this was a bit awkward for the PPC staff to explain why they were not on the list. It just so happened that I had one extra sample bottle and bacteria bag and advised that we could include it if it would help the PPC team in their work there. So we took the “extra” sample and the family was happy that their well would be tested. After 5 hours of work in the lab, we found no unusual results for arsenic screening until the very last sample. The one that was “extra”. We were amazed that this well had greater than 100 ppb arsenic or 10 times greater than the World Health Organization guideline for drinking water. And so we immediately contacted the PPC staff director. We set up a re-test just to confirm the findings and again it was over 100ppb. PPC staff advised the family that they should not use this water for drinking or cooking.
So now.. the rest of the OutWASH story. Now I had to return with the PPC staff on 4 April to do WASH education with children in the school and explain the test results to the families. You can see in the attached pictures that the PPC staff member was doing a wonderful job filling in for my broken Khmer/English or Khenglish. The posters worked well and the seeds were planted for building more understanding about breaking the transmission cycle of bacteria through water, to food and to people. Best of all, Khmer students were helping do the work, Khmer staff working for PPC personally experienced the value of WASH outreach education, and several families in this village are no longer drinking arsenic contaminated water. Training and understanding flowing out through Khmer people to help others have health and an opportunity to stay in school.