In the western world, there are many things about everyday life taken for granted… one such thing being access to a safe, potable water supply. One in eight people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water and approximately 50% of hospital beds on Earth are occupied by people with easily preventable waterborne diseases  .This just provides a snapshot of the importance of a clean water supply.
A company that is known for making pumps, Xylem Inc. (Lowara), has decided to start helping this good cause while also putting an end to the perception of an ordinary “manufacturer trip” with death by PowerPoint (or local produce) and a blurry whisk around a manufacturing plant being standard (or a thing of the past?). Oh and it counted towards our 40,000 hours for 40 campaign.
As part of the Xylem Water Drop initiative (partnered with Planet Water Foundation), whereby the simple premise is “points mean prizes” (more details here), it’s now possible to have the opportunity to be part of a team which builds water towers and provides safe water supplies to communities in rural parts of the world where this is a much needed commodity.
The destination was set as Cambodia, the time of year, November. Injections were required!
The English team of volunteers flew from Heathrow to meet with the German and French groups (providing a bit of friendly competition) in Bangkok. We were then only a short hop, skip and a jump to Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was the base for the duration of our stay, albeit minus the English team’s luggage which we assumed were still at Heathrow. Luckily, two “lovely” branded t-shirts were supplied by Xylem (the ones from our marketing team were stuck in transit…).
There were three tasks to be completed for each of the three water towers we were to construct.
First task; Hygiene Education – Educate both the teachers and children to change behaviour, learn what germs are and how to combat them by washing their hands (not rinsing) and the importance of safe, clean water.
Second task; Tower Build – Building the tower structure and fixing it in place. Needless to say, definitely no competition between the English and German teams, none at all…
And lastly the third task; Accessories – Plumbing the water tower to the pre-installed pump, filter and water tank (something as consultants we know how to do more than we actually can do). All components are made within the country apart from the filter which is designed to be appropriate technology for rural communities. The filter installation is complete with a 0.1 µm hollow fibre filter cartridge where cleaning can be carried out on a daily basis with standard household bleach.
Each team had the opportunity to undertake all tasks as we visited three schools in total (two in the first day and one in the second). The education element was particularly rewarding as we were given time with the children to help change behaviour from rinsing to washing, and to hopefully give them the knowledge they can pass onto future generations to help push forward socio-economic development of the nation. I took this opportunity to get involved with the kids and join them in playing germ tag, a task definitely at my level, I seemed to be in my element. The way in which we were greeted at each school, with a guard of honour by the staff and kids, was overwhelming at times but showed that they felt what we were there to provide was of importance to the school and local community.
Each tower can provide up to 10,000 litres of fresh clean water meeting World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, for up to 1,000 people each day. This is in contrast to the hand pump wells which once broken, villagers would often remove the concrete covers and use buckets to draw water, adding risk by contaminating the supply due to buckets often being dirty and the wells being left uncovered.
Luckily alongside the hard work there was opportunity to get to know the different teams and to fully immerse ourselves in the local culture and traditions – if you call either of these trying the local delicacy of scorpion, tarantulas or snakes on a stick?! There were planned visits to some amazing places such as (the bar Angkor What? Where we got to grips with our second type of tower for the trip!) a day wandering around the temple complex at Angkor, the Khmer Capital City. Temples include Angkor Wat, originally constructed as a Hindu temple of the god Vishnu for the Khmer empire before eventually transforming into a Buddhist temple and Ta Prohm where the complex is entangled with ancient trees but most famous for Lara Croft bounding around.
Overall the experience was a once in a lifetime trip where I got the opportunity to be more involved in a worthy cause than I first expected, and got to see more than the tourist traps of a country I’ve grown to love even more on my second visit. On a serious note, on the last night at Angkor What? (a local bar), we met a group of German teachers who shared their experiences of getting to know the kids over the weeks and months they spend with them, only for every now and again, one of the children not to turn up one day. It turns out this is due to illness and diseases prevalent due to contaminated water supplies. Hopefully the three communities I got to visit have now got the opportunity for this not to be the norm with a fresh clean water supply providing a positive impact.
By travelling off the beaten track, where what seems to be a straight road becomes an endless set of chicanes (navigated at a snail’s pace due to potholes bigger than paddling pools) I had the opportunity to see (and hopefully help) a snapshot of the people living in the rural parts of the country that I wouldn’t ordinarily had. Having had the chance to be involved, it’s this that I now look forward to most in any of my next adventures.
 Planet Water, “Why Water?,” 2017