MADness in Cambodia

A blog post written by Pamella Lim who went MAD in Jan 2014 to build water filters in Cambodia

19th January 2014

Day 1 - Touchdown: Siem Reap

Most of us were on the 6.50am flight which meant checking-in before sunrise and for some of us (me), not sleeping the night before in fear of missing my flight. I would never forgive myself for missing this trip which we all had worked so hard for and been looking forward to since November 2013. Fifteen of us had raised more than USD10,000 - something I still find hard to believe! Eight of us were on this flight so we met in front of McDonald’s LCCT and headed together to the boarding gate. Given the sleepless night I had, the last thing I remember was buckling up in my seat. Next thing I know, the captain announces that we are about to land. The two-hour nap was a real refresher, I must say. As we stepped out of the aircraft, almost every passenger squealed. It was cold! Quite hard to fathom, as I had prepared for a sunny weather. We huddled in our shawls and walked as quickly as we could to the terminal building. We gathered again upon collecting our baggage and the eight of us managed to get a van to the hotel for a dollar each. This was it. The chilly 15 degree-weather, and the one-dollar airport transfer. The beginning of many unbelievable experiences Siem Reap had to offer us.


20th & 21st January 2014

Day 2 & 3: The Hard Work and Heartfelt Moments

Call time was at 8.00am at the guesthouse lobby where we all had our coffee fix along with breakfast. Though some still groggy, it was clear that each and every one of us were excited just thinking about what the day had in store for us. Soon enough, we were ushered into a van and brought to the Water for Cambodia office, just five minutes away. Symbolically, the first thing we saw as we arrived at the office were concrete blocks of water filters which were made the day before and left out to dry.

In the office, we were given a brief introduction of Water for Cambodia and the work they do by the Program Manager, Nthabeleng. Then, Seur, the Monitoring and Evaluation officer briefed us all about the filters. How they work, how we were going to build them and finally install them at the village.

Once the briefing was over, we headed out of the office to start building the filters. We barely needed a warm up session. Within minutes of Seur showing us what we had to do, we dived straight in. Little care was given to our manicured nails or our crisp clean clothes. We got down and dirty with putting the moulds in place, oiling it, mixing the cement and pouring it into the moulds. But of course we took time to strike a pose whenever we noticed the camera clicking around us. The team was such a joy to work with. Each one of us was doing something at some point, swiftly communicating with each other. The Water for Cambodia staff were there working with us and everything went so smoothly, it felt like we had been doing this every day! Once we finished moulding 15 filters and left it to dry, it was lunch time already. We bid goodbye to the Water for Cambodia office and went on to devour some delish Cambodian lunch.

Right after lunch, we headed to Preuh Dak Village, which wasn’t too far off. Upon arrival, we were broken up into groups of three and each group was assigned with a Water for Cambodia installer to guide us as well as be our translator. Off we went house-to-house to install the filters. Considering this village was a mere 15 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap town, the living conditions were shocking. Sure, you see it on TV and read about it online, but nothing beats witnessing poverty before your very own eyes. With every filter installed, our group took time to chat with the beneficiaries, with the help of our translator, to get to know the story of their lives. Most of the kids do not go to school and the ones who do, drop out at the average age of 12. The boys go with their fathers to work at construction sites, or collect palm oil and the daughters help their mothers make rice noodles. The entire village does not have electricity. Their meals comprise of dog meat, rats, snakes - not because they’re exotic but because it is easily obtained from their surroundings. And the very basic thing - water - is pumped from a well, looks and smells like something you and I wouldn’t even think of touching. It’s murky, contains debris and smells like metal, thanks to the high iron content. It was almost impossible to comprehend and definitely not something we think about when we’re taking our third shower of the day simply because the weather is too hot. Amidst all this depressing stories and lives that we witnessed, the joy on their faces as they watched us install the filters was priceless. We got down to work and washed the stones for the filter, again, not caring much that our hands were getting bruised or that carrying water from the wells was hurting our backs. Some of the wells were situated about 200 meters from the house and the only thought I had was, that this hard work, is every day life for the villagers. My favourite part of the process was once we finished installing each filter and the Water for Cambodia staff explained to the family how to use it. They listened intently and thanked us profusely. Hands down, the most humbling moment of my life. Mixed emotions really, sad about the poverty yet so grateful and blessed for the above-average life we have back home. On the third day, we started off at 8am again and had a whole day of installing filters. All of us took loads of pictures - the greatest gift we could give back to all our generous and supportive donors back home. Giving back to society. This is what it’s all about. Seeing the smiles and the gratitude they had as they received something so precious which would serve them for many, many years. A filter that would give them clean water. Lesser illness and disease would hit the innocent children.

 As we left the village for the last time, we cheered for each other in the van for a productive trip and job well done. Twenty filters installed. Twenty families with access to clean water. And that was not the end. We did raise over USD10,000 remember? That equals to more than 150 filters, which the Water for Cambodia team will continue building on our behalf. 

To me, this was one of the best experiences in life. Definitely something I not only want to get involved with again and again, but I also couldn’t wait to get home and share it with my family and friends. To sum up the whole experience, it was MAD! 

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