For the past couple of days we have been building, installing, and fixing water filters with Sao Sary Foundation in Kampong Speu! Before we started diving into building we learned some background on why so many people need access to clean water in Cambodia, and how these biosand filters actually produce clean drinking water.
A couple of days before driving to Kampong Speu, we were in Phnom Penh learning about the killing fields, which is where a mass genocide took place in Cambodia after the takeover of power by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. From 1975-1979 the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was small throughout the 1960’s and didn’t have much support across Cambodia. But after the US dropped bombs on Cambodia to try to stop the North Vietnamese from transporting troops and supplies through Cambodia to South Vietnam, support for the Khmer Rouge changed. The Khmer Rouge gathered support from the uneducated people in the countryside by promising a pure classless agrarian society where they were the perfect image for this new Cambodian society. (evil western influence).After taking power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge emptied big cities such as Phmon Penh and pushed them out into the countryside where they would work 12 hours a day or more doing exhausting manual labor. Those who showed signs of being educated where murdered. Others died of malnutrition, starvation, and anyone trying to pick up berries or find another food source was executed. Out of Cambodia’s total population of 8 million people, around 1.7 million people, almost 25% of the population died under the Khmer Rouge.
Why is this important to building clean water filters you might ask? Well, out of Cambodia’s population now around 6.3 million do not have access to clean drinking water. This is most likely due to the fact that during the Khmer Rouge the educated people where executed and those left were lacking even basic literacy. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the destruction of institutions in Cambodia such as government, regulations and enforcements, and environmental policies. As a result, there is no infrastructure set in place for water filtration or a proper way for getting rid of waste. As a result, the water that is naturally dirty gets even more dirty because of pollution and people drink it and causes water borne illnesses.
Sao Sary’s ‘Water For Life’ program provides biosand filters to prevent water borne illnesses and provide target villages with a steady supply of clean, drinkable water. The biosand filter consists of a container of concrete, a plastic pipe, and is filled with rocks and sand. The dirty water is poured into the top of the filter where the diffusion plate distributes the water evenly. As it travels through the sand it passes through layers of rocks and collects in the pipe at the bottom of the filter and exits through the top of the filter so families can collect the clean water. The material present in the dirty water is trapped at the surface of the sand bed which removes pathogens. This simple device can provide sustainable, reliable safe drinking water for a family of 8-10 people for well over 10 years.
Day one in Sao Sary the group we were able build 10 water filters!! The process of building the filters included sanding off the rust of the molds, bolting the structure so the mold would be stable, placing the pipe for water to flow, and pouring cement into the molds! We continued our work the next day by coming into the targeted villages and fixing the water filters that were previously installed by Sao Sary. Our day consisted of emptying the dirty sand of the water filter and replacing it with clean sand which would create clean drinking water for the family. The maintenance of the water filters was much harder than I had previously though, but we managed to fix 5 water filters that day and the whole group was so excited to go back the next day to install new filters into homes. The last day at Sao Sary we took off the molds of the filters we made on the first day. It was so exciting to see the water filters we made get loaded on the bus to be installed in new homes. We ended up installing 3 new water filters and fixed 5 more filters.
From cleaning sand with the local kids, to jamming to music while we worked on the molds the pigeon squad had a blast and it was great to look back the last day and see how much we had accomplished in a short amount of time!