This Christmas I spent time in Siam Reap, Cambodia with my family building a water tower for a local school. It provides fresh drinking water for over 1,000 people in the school and the surrounding villages. This is a project that is organized by Planet Water, Habitat for Humanity and Xylem Watermark who have built multiple towers within Cambodia. Planet Water is a non-profit international organization who's main goal is to bring clean water to the most underdeveloped areas in the world. Along with the installation of water towers, Planet Waters goal is to provide education on hygiene and health.
While in Cambodia, we learned that over 60% of the children in these villages suffer from diarrhea because of the lack of clean drinking water. These children also live in an environment that is surrounded by blistering heat. Water is integral to their survival. One cannot expect these children to live, yet alone learn without having access to clean water. It was eye opening to see how important something like water can be for these children and the community they live in. Water in this part of the world becomes a pre-requisite to all other things. A simple water fountain in my own school is a normal occurrence and getting sick means that I go to the health center and get medicine. Water becomes a trivial thing in a developed world.
Once the water tower was set up, students were rushing to get water. They were excited to wash the dirt off their hands with soap and drink filtered water. They were even given bottles to carry back some water to their families. I have never seen children so excited to wash their hands and drink water from natural sources. It was as if someone threw wads of cash up in the air and people rushing to grab them. It was a bittersweet moment in time.
My favorite part about this experience was being able to connect with the students and children in the surrounding village. After teaching the students about hygienic living I had time to get to know them personally and visit their simple homes in the neighboring village. The children mostly spoke Khmer, which is the official language of Cambodia, but they knew bits and pieces of English. At first, they felt awkward around me. I told them my name and to get my attention they would scream "Hello Megan!” However we didn't need to speak to communicate, we just laughed and made funny sounds. Not knowing how to communicate in their native language, I grabbed a cup and started to play a beat. After a couple of minutes, the whole class got silent. Then they all grabbed a cup and tried to imitate what I was doing. Soon the entire class was banging on the desks making music along with me. It was truly incredible. Soon the whole classroom was a plethora of music and laughter. Other students began to peep through the window and stand at the door to see what our commotion was. Moments like these are what I live for. Overall, I had a great experience, with great people, in a great place. I wish Planet Water the best of luck on their future endeavors and I hope to be able to come back to see their success next year!