To give back?
To learn about other cultures?
To see a different place?
To meet new people?
To grow as an individual?
I couldn’t tell which reason weighed more for my enthusiasm to be an overseas volunteer but it was something I have been meaning to do since I graduated from university.
Finally, I had the chance to do it.
Water for Life: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Together with fourteen colleagues, I went to Siem Reap to take part in the project, Water for Life. The objective of the three day volunteering work was to provide bio-sand water filters for rural communities in order to substantially reduce the risk of water-borne diseases.
Note to travellers: Tap water in Siem Reap is not safe for drinking.
Bio-Sand Water Filter: The Way to Potable Water
After the briefing, we split into two groups. Our group went to the field to install the water filters, the other group stayed at the lab to fabricate water filters.
The location was a few hours drive from the main town of Siem Reap. No paved roads. I checked Google maps, we were in the middle of nowhere (or maybe Google doesn’t have enough information on that place).
We were further split into four-man teams, with two guides each. Not many Cambodians (in that area) speak English so the guides have to do most of the talking. They asked where the main water source was, the materials for the installation, then the proposed location for the bio-sand filter. Later on they informed the residents how to use and maintain the filter.
Water for Cambodia follows up on these water filters and organizes talks for communities regarding proper health and hygiene, etc.
It was hard to communicate with the locals with just smiling so the guides have to translate – a lot. The Cambodians live a fairly simple lifestyle and they somehow seem satisfied with it.
√ Set up the water filter. √ Wash the gravel. √ Wash the sand. √ Place the gravel in the filter. √ Check the level of the gravel. √ Place the sand in the filter. √ Check the level of the sand. √ Pour Water into the filter. √ Check the flow rate. √ Done.
Seems easy, right? But doing it a lot of times under the hot sun proved to be quite tedious. Nevertheless, doing work for the benefit of people who greatly needed it was worth all the effort.
Singaporean. Malaysian. Chinese. Filipino. Japanese. Australian. Indian. Talk about a good mix of nationalities.
After only one day, I could already see the scarcity of resources in this country. To think that most people worry about what purchases to make or what trend to follow, the people we met in Cambodia were in need for more basic things.
On the second day, our team stayed at the Water Lab to assemble bio-sand water filters aka construction work!
The curious faces. It appears as if were being idle. We were waiting for them to dismantle the previously casted filters!
I think we did a pretty good job with work division. The guys did the cement mixing, casting, etc. while the girls prepared the filter molds. Hard to explain but it was a lot of handy work for all of us.
That’s what we call team work! We were done in half a day! Good job team!
The fifteen volunteers went together to install filters on the last day. After getting used to the work the past two days, the pace today was relatively better.
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” –Mother Teresa
The volunteer work at Siem Reap was a fulfilling experience that I will never forget. It has given me the opportunity to give a hand to those in need, to make good friends, and to better appreciate the simple things.
I know that what we have done in Siem Reap was not enough to make a huge difference for the need for clean water. But at least, it will be beneficial to several villagers.
Grateful. This was how I felt after. Somehow, doing this gave me a sense of purpose (which I can’t quite explain). I don’t have that altruistic calling but I am considering to do another one in the future. Maybe, one close to home too.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.
Water for Life is an initiative by the Singapore International Foundation , with kind sponsorship from Deutsche Bank and Ngee Ann Development Pte Ltd, and implemented in partnership with Middletown Rhode Island Rotary Club and Angkor Hospital for Children. If you are interested to volunteer for the Water for Life Project or other projects organized by Singapore International Foundation. You may get in touch with them via their website: http://www.sif.org.sg/
Credits to Julien Li Hao for the photos. Check out his work in the link: http://julienli.4ormat.com/
Have you done any overseas volunteer work? What was the experience like? Let us know.