Reflections on our YCS Water for Cambodia project

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Tham Sze Rong, one of our YCS Team Wash aspirants, shares her reflections from our Water for Cambodia trip last month

Photo credit: Spencer Tan / Suss Photography

For those who have supported my bake sales and supported me in one way or another, this is for you:

I embarked on my very first overseas CIP on the 13th of December, for a 10-day trip to help a village in Kampot, Cambodia. We were burning with vigour and carried hearts full of enthusiasm to execute what we had planned 6 months before and face what was in store for us.

6 months prior to this project, 2 of our team members went down for a recce trip to gain a better understanding of the village itself. After much sharing and discussion, we were often left questioning ourselves “what good could we actually bring to this people when they already had some decent water systems installed for them”, “was there anything extraordinary we could do?”. These questions left us both disengaged and discouraged during some meetings, probably one of the lowest points for the team. However, we still managed to come together towards the end, to create a goal that was achievable and significant to our team “to teach them the importance of safe water”. We also decided on working with Rainwater Cambodia to fund 15 poor households in the village with a rainwater harvesting system.

RWHS installationPhoto credit: Spencer Tan / Suss Photography

Hence, we embarked on the trip with three phrases closely linked to one another. Firstly, we spent two days on installation. It was initially not in our plan to witness and be part of the installation process, but our mentors strongly insisted that it was an important part of the process. I must admit that it was a one-of-a-kind experience, something that could not be experienced and done elsewhere. Our team was very lucky to have been able to work under the supervision of 5 technicians, who took so much pride and precision in their work, yet humble in their profession. We climbed into the jumbo jar that was probably 2m in height to scrape off the cemented inner surface, we scrubbed the inner sides till it was smooth and clean, we carried and moved rocks (big and small), we learnt how to twist wires the smart way, we mixed and mixed many (MANY) piles of cement and mud, we used tree barks to smoothen the cemented surfaces. All these were no doubt back-breaking and required intense amount of work and labor but yet the community all gathered around us, supported us in some way or another, whether it was generously sharing with us their share of coconuts or laughing along with us and allowing us to interact with their children. It was so heartening when the community slowly picked up after us when we had to transfer huge rocks from one end to another, in no time a chain was formed. That moment made me feel like I wasn’t just some foreigner invading their territory and thinking that I was making a huge impact by disrupting the installation process, but they made me feel like I was part of a community project, one that would hopefully provide the many little kids in that community with fairly safer water for consumption. The technicians were also very patient and endearing of us, times when we majorly screwed up the walls of the jumbo jar or twisted and broke their wires, they never hesitated to let us try again. Even though our communication was only limited to “ok” and “stop”, we felt a true connection with them that lasted for the 10 days of our stay. Days when we went for home visits and they would be at that household building another jumbo jar, we would wave hello like old friends or on the last day during our morning walk, they offered to give us a lift back on their tractor. Installation was truly memorable but it built the very first connection with the villagers that saw us hard at work, that we were not merely some “cocky” foreigners that were here to teach them or give them something, but people who are willing to get down and dirty with them and for them, to understand and empathise with them.

WASH educationPhoto credit: Spencer Tan / Suss Photography

Secondly, we embarked on our second phase: Education. Honestly, this was the most exciting part of the trip for me because of my personal love and soft spot for children. The school is just a 3 min walk from our home stay, I still remember being all pumped up for my first lesson with the grade 9s and carrying a ceramic filter on my way to school, passing by a beautiful pagoda which was just right beside the school. The campus was a village style cozy school, with very decent amenities and environment for the kids to be educated in. These kids stared at me with such eager and curious eyes immediately when we walked in, they came in crowds and I just hoped I could be talking to the whole school instead of just a few classes. So on the first day, we had various lesson plans to educated the grade 9 students about the difference between clean and safe water, the importance of safe drinking water and how to obtain safe water. It was only when I stepped into the class and tried to lead the lesson that I felt the language barrier being so real. The language barrier was definitely something I, and my team, overlooked, when I split the class into half to carry out two separate activities I was left helpless without a translator, and it was impossible to carry on the lesson. However, the students were still so respectful, giving me all ears and their fullest attention to see what was in store for them and for us. The translators and simple games were great tools in breaking the ice barrier that built between us. I was left rather disappointed after the lesson because I knew that if I had planned for it way earlier, the language barrier would not have been so real, that I would have given these kids who have very well given me 2 hrs of their time, so much more information and knowledge. As much as my regrets overwhelmed me, I was determined that the grade 6 class and campaign the next day would not be carried out the same way. The grade 6 class went much better as planned with the use of more visual graphics and actions that helped to reduce he communication gap. The campaign was also game-focused, hence the kids were more engaged and probably understood the message behind it more. I would never forget the chuckles and their innocent laughers, and their effort to reply me in English like “ok” or “thank you”, I would never forget the moment when their unanimously chanted my name “Rong” when the translators asked them whether they remembered me, I would never forget their eager faces so so hungry to learn more and I would never forget their quiet yet bold ambitions to be doctors and teachers. I hope they get there one day, even if they have to leave the comforts or the security of their village to explore what is in store for them out there, because I see so much potential and humility burning from their hearts.

House visitsPhoto credit: Spencer Tan / Suss Photography

Thirdly, and also the last phase was house visits. We were glad that as a team we managed to conquer 5 grueling days of installation and education and when we came to house visits, we definitely did heave a sigh of relief but also enthusiasm to begin the next phase of our journey. House visits involved us breaking into 4 teams to visit and teach the households that we have helped provide the rainwater harvesting system how to clean and maintain the systems and also provide them with our very own DIY filters. It took a lot more efficient communication within the team to ensure that everyone had their individual logistics in place, and that we were all ready to set off for each house visit. What I learnt from this very simple process was people skills, the ability and strength in being able to connect and really engage the other person that you’re trying to help. Every visit began with a 15-25 mins casual talk, getting to understand what they did for a living, who were their family members, what situation they were in. Transiting to our point of being here and sharing about the maintenance of jars and obtaining safe water often seem really abrupt but the more we shared with them, the enthusiasm and eagerness in their eyes to learn more really allowed us to build an instant connection with them. When the filter worked and they saw the “change in color” of the rainwater into relatively cleaner drinking water, I felt like we finally had some impact in their lives and all their kids would eventually benefit from it 🙂 I would never forget the vigour of the first grandma that we talked to, even with so much hands-on application of the DIY filter, she never failed to try continuously and make an effort to remember how to use it. I would never forget the sparkle in the second grandma’s voice whenever she talked about her granddaughter studying outside of the village and how she insisted on sharing the jar of water with her neighbours and the kids. I would also not forget the single lady with a 4 month year old baby and a disabled husband, how her eyes always lit up into a smile when we shared that this water would probably be able to help her malnutritioned child. I would not forget the last family with the mum having an abnormal crooked back, married to a husband 10 years younger, had two children and how she shared with us her story so readily even though we were strangers. It’s not much, it’s just 4 households, but their voices were memorable and their smiles were priceless.

We, volunteers, always struggle with the notion of whether “what we are doing is enough” or “what impact are we actually bringing to the community” or “what more can we do”. It’s a never ending list of questions and it’s true that our impact is as small as it can get, that the learning may outweigh the service but it shouldn’t stop us from helping nor doing something for others.

Volunteering, I believe, is a human connection not a physical and tangible achievement, and connections are built continuously and always remembered. So I urge on all those with a heart for volunteering, to continue doing it, make it a way of life and soon your path will be significant to you and you only.

All I can say, is that I’m humbled by this experience and it doesn’t just end here. Volunteering goes a long long way and my cause may be small, but it’s going to be a way of life.

— Tham Sze Rong

We are looking for more teams keen to take this project further! If your school/company is interested, do get in touch with us at partnerships@EngineeringGood.org

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WorleyParsons shares the conviction that each individual has the ability to make a positive impact in the world, which is reflected in WorleyParsons’ internal key organisational value of leadership which strives to empower individuals and encourages them to take responsibility. WorleyParsons envisages a global support scheme of humanitarian engineering organisations in each of our Regions to further develop our internal commitment to Corporate Responsibility.

WorleyParsons Singapore is Engineering Good’s founding corporate partner. Through their Corporate Responsibility Team, WorleyParsons Singapore incubated Engineering Good (formerly known as Engineers Without Borders Asia) in Singapore. A dedicated staff was heavily involved in the inception journey of the organisation, seeing it through successful registration. WorleyParsons also provided seed-funds and office facilities to support the initial operations of the organisation.

For more information on WorleyParsons, please visit their corporate responsibility page.

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Aditya Bansal Emily Zhang Jean Oh Low Eicher Peter Stones Tan Alvin
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Special thanks to Teo Keng Pheng for sponsoring the 4% admin fee for this crowdfunding campaign ♥

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Click here to visit our Portal and discover how you can get involved.

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Check out Envelope 2015’s Facebook page for more photos of the event!

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Project Make-Possible with IES-NUS

Project Make Possible was an event to help bridge the current gap between engineers and disadvantaged communities. Project Make-Possible began with a Humanitarian Engineering talk, where participants were introduced to the concept of Humanitarian Engineering, followed by a Makerthon.

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Read more about the event at SPD’s publication on Project Make-Possible and check out more photos at Project Make-Possible’s Facebook page!

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