On 9 June 2017, we joined Shinta Mani Foundation (SMF) on their third donation of 150 Clarity Water filters in Roka Village, a remote village in Western Battambang, Cambodia.Battambang, one of the cities in Cambodia’s economic growth corridor, is about a two to three-hour drive Southwest of Siem Reap. Since the country opened again, the roads have drastically improved, but it still takes time to get from A to B. Especially in June – the beginning of the rainy season when roads are often flooded by sudden rains showers. Other times of the year, the country suffers from terrible droughts. These extremes make good road maintenance a challenge.In Battambang, we met with the Handa Foundation team. Chakara Em, marketing and PR director, and his team helped organize the donation in Roka village and provided a space where we assembled and stored the Clarity Water Filters before the ceremony the following day.Handa Foundation, founded in 2012, is a non-religious, non-political NGO focusing on building hospitals and schools in South East Asia. Dr. Haruhisa Handa, the founder and a Japanese businessman, and the Foundation have the vision to make a significant and immediate impact in the communities, to provide training opportunities and to serve disadvantaged people.Since we were in Battambang, we had the chance to tour the Handa Medical Center. Currently, it includes ten consultation rooms, a pharmacy, a laboratory, and a ten-bed inpatient facility. Young Cambodian doctors and nurses have the opportunity to learn high-quality medical practices through on the job training with foreign doctors. The surplus hospital revenues are donated to provide free care for the underprivileged at the adjacent World Mate Emergency Hospital.The 109-room trauma hospital’s team treats more than 1,000 trauma victims per month. Previously, the focus was heavily on landmine victims. More than half of all the landmine survivors in Cambodia have been treated in this facility. Today, there are about four to six landmine cases per month. The hospital now specializes in road accidents. Between 2012 and 2015 these accidents, often resulting in head trauma, increased by 30% and claim more victims than HIV, Malaria and TB combined.The hospital has been a key player in the recovery of Northwestern Cambodia since 1998, but it is evident that a lot more support is needed.
Back at the storage shed in Handa Foundation’s garden, we finalized the assembly of the Clarity Water filters packages by including toothbrushes for the families. In the center is a beautiful patch of dark green grass, interspersed with small statues. Chakara explained that it also serves as practice grounds for landmine victims to learn to walk across it without fear.Deeply impressed by the work done in this community and troubled by the poverty, tragedies, misfortunes, and destinies the Cambodian people endure, we ended the day with a leisurely stroll through sleepy Battambang downtown. The next day certainly would bring more impressions.
The occurrence of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia is one of the highest in Asia. According to UNAIDS, in 2015, more than 74,000 Cambodian people lived with HIV infections.Roka Village, where we decided to donate the filters, had been in the news a lot in 2015 and 2016 in relation to HIV infections. Lately, it has become quiet about the tragedy.In the end of 2014, it was discovered that an unlicensed health worker had knowingly infected 292 village people with the HIV virus using contaminated needles. After his arrest and media reports in the West, donations from all over the world poured in to help the affected families who are too sick to work or go to school, who live under terrible living conditions, have only poor, basic or no sanitation, no access to clean water, and no support.
In 2017, the donations and international aid have largely dried up, but the misery continues. SMF’s Sokoun Chanpreda and his team heard about Roka’s situation and pledged to help. Discussing the most urgent needs of the villagers with the village chief revealed that there is a serious lack of clean water. Whether it’s due to droughts in the dry season or torrent rains in the rainy season, it is a huge challenge for the villagers to access water – let alone clean water. Most lack the funds to buy bottled water. SMF decided not only to donate the water filters but to build two reservoirs and to dig a couple of wells.
On 9 June 2017, we headed to the remote village in the west of Battambang to distribute the filters to families in need. While the village chief, the helpers and our team added the last preparatory touches to the ceremony, we toured the local hospital.The hospital staff informed us that discrimination of the infected people is not very high anymore. The families and friends of the victims have been informed about the risks and take precautions. However, many of the people who contracted the HIV virus are unable to work due to illnesses and the side-effects of the anti-retroviral medicine. Since the beginning of 2015, 16 of the 292 people have died. The last victim, who died in February 2017, was an 83-year old abbot. His death has tumbled the villagers in a new round of despair.Back on the grounds, we saw the villagers arriving on foot or motorcycle and quietly taking their places on the mats. They were clad in their nicest clothes to receive the water filters that will significantly improve their everyday lives. While the village chief and Brad from SMF addressed the audience and explained the use of the water filters after a traditional Khmer dance performance, they sat patiently.
Afterward, the villagers could ask questions and to our astonishment, they were already concerned about replacing the ceramic core of the filters after a one-year use and where they would get the replacement filters.In an orderly fashion, the villagers were then called upon by name to pick up their gifts. They stepped forward to receive the water filter and the tooth brushes. At the end, we watched them slowly walk back to their modest houses where they could assemble their filter and immediately start cleaning the water they get from the reservoir or the river.
On our way back to Battambang, we stopped at the newly constructed reservoir. To the untrained eye, it is not much more than a deep crevice in the red mud, but to the Roka people, it is one of the measures to improve their lives and health.
On a lighter note – also on the way back – we stopped at the Handa Model Farm. Similar to SMF’s farm in Siem Reap, the four-hectare farm is used to grow fruit trees and vegetables. It serves as a training facility for local farmers to learn about sustainable farming and growing crops. Any surplus revenues from the farm will be donated to the Handa Medical Center.The Cambodian government’s objective is to provide universal access to water and sanitation in rural areas by 2025. It is still a long way to achieve this goal, but every step and every gesture in this direction help. We will continue our efforts to support the people of Cambodia to fulfill their dreams of clean water.