The Roller Coaster 05-24-15

Our last day in Svay Rieng was short as we had plans to travel back to Ho Chi Minh City that afternoon. Today was the beginning of what would leave a lasting impression on my life. I was venturing back to my normal routine after being so deeply engrained in everything else but myself. I began to notice I became more of an introvert on this trip than I previously had been, which is pretty introverted if you know me. I began to think analytically and felt that everyone around me acted in cynicism. I noticed complaining and self-interest more.

Ya serenades us after breakfast on our departing day.

Ya serenades us after breakfast on our departing day.

Comments about the heat, being hungry, being tired, and more made my skin crawl. How could we have anything to complain about? We just witnessed children that may or may not have water at home. We saw children displaced from their families just so they could receive an education. We saw a family build their latrine so that they had somewhere to defecate. We saw a community welcome us with warm arms and feed us a feast. It brought me back to the thoughts of what it means to be rich.

All of us (minus Heather), on the back of the work truck.

All of us (minus Heather), on the back of the work truck.

This entire trip I felt as if all of my life up to this point, I’ve been living poor. Leaving Svay Rieng I reminisced on all of the rich people I saw in an area deeply impoverished. I started to feel guilty, but then I remembered a debrief we had with Josh from Wine to Water. We talked about how you should never feel guilty. You should harness those feelings into being able to understand that we have absolutely no excuse not to live up to our full potential and be the best human we can be. Whether or not that entails participating in international relief efforts or not, be all that you can with no hesitation. If it does involve international development, remember that time is polychronic. You should never be focused on “getting things done” or focusing on one aspect of poverty. Poverty is a risky problem which has many responses. The first step for any aspect of poverty brings us back to our innate desires, relationships.

Poverty is the direct result of a broken relationship. To break the barrier of trust issue, you need to get to know someone and then the community.

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Water Works and Stagnant Progression 05-21-15

Today we saw the inner workings of a company that goes beyond water works. This company has utilized local materials to bring jobs, health education and sanitation, and most importantly, clean water to rural Cambodian villages. RDI, Research Development International, has a ceramic water filter factory that has developed a system catered to that region. For international development and relief work, it is important to consider that there is no cookie cutter mold that works in every location. Each country and even regions within that country will have constantly revolving issues specific to them and therefore you must be able to adapt and develop methods for that area.

Artistic clay and rice husk used to make the pots

Artistic clay and rice husk used to make the pots

Blending the ingredients into large chunks to be molded into a pot.

Blending the ingredients into large chunks to be molded into a pot.

RDI has done a wonderful job at sourcing local materials, clay and rice husk, to form terra-cotta like pots that filter water. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Specific details down to the type of clay used matters. RDI uses an artists type of clay that is easier to shape, but also the right porosity to capture parasites. Once formed, a gentlemen smooths out the pots to work out the indentions from the mold. Aesthetically pleasing goods dictate high quality and credibility for the locals. The clay pots are then impregnated with a silver bath because silver acts as a natural antimicrobial agent. Once completed, the clay pots go into a plastic holding container.Water is poured into the pot and filters out into the holding container and is ready for consumption.

Smoothing out the pots

Smoothing out the pots

Finished pots after fired in kiln.

Finished pots after fired in kiln.

The science behind this type of water filter is not new in the scene. In fact, Potters For Peace uses this technology worldwide. What is specific to this area is the materials used to make the pots and the methods of education. In sort of a neapolitan ice-cream fashion RDI, Kone Khmeng, and Wine to Water all work together. RDI develops the “technology”, Kone Khmeng works on educating and doing work in the field, and Wine to Water is the guiding hand along the way.

Finished filtration system

Finished filtration system

Water testing lab.

Water testing lab.

Something very reputable about Wine to Water is that they don’t go into any project in any country and tell them what’s “right” or “wrong”.  They go in with the knowledge, like Brad Ponack a renowned water sanitation specialists and engineer, to help the ground partners negotiate and think of proper methods. With Wine to Water’s presence, they’ve managed to introduce new ideas of sanitation, where you should build a well in relation to a latrine, and how a latrine should be constructed to prevent contaminating well water.

RDI offered information overload, it was in a way another show of “How It’s Made”. However, we were in for a bonus treat because we get to see these filters in action. It was like we were following a crumb trail towards the big finale. Following that crumb trail really allows you to understand the complexity of having a sustainable business model. You must be detailed and focused on every aspect along the trail to establish positive relationships and successful reputations within the community. Along this trail, RDI has gained knowledge of the Cambodian culture. For example, the system of bargaining is engrained in the culture. Therefore, if the price for the filters is set at $20, they have room for negotiation to the end of profit margin at $13.50.

From the ceramic clay factory we traveled to the Svay Rieng province. It is here, the pinnacle of rural cambodia, that we would be doing work with Wine to Water. It is also here that poverty seemed most rampant. To compare to my experience in Costa Rica, Svay Rieng was still well developed. We didn’t see any houses composed of thatch and hay, mostly everybody has a well on site, thanks to Kone Kmeng for providing over 500 in the community. But to compare it to Ho Chi Minh City, which was just hours drive away and in the heart of the city, was like night and day. Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and growing at an exponential rate. The population exceeds 9 million and by the end of 2014 the GDP grew by 8.9%. In Svay Rieng, the population is just over 400,000.

Being essentially a geographic skip away, Svay Rieng seems unable to grasp onto the reigns of development. You begin to ask why. Then you remember incidents imposed by the Khmer Rogue, a wipe out of 25% of the population just 40 years ago. Such a recent even in Cambodian history has not only dramatically sized down the population to young people, but it wiped out the intellects, the artists, the creativity, and also the hope. The citizens of Cambodia have been seriously stained by the events surrounding the Khmer Rouge and left at the disadvantage while cities just hours by boom with prosperity. Then you begin to question what it would take to bring them back to where they could potentially be. Perhaps the government. Perhaps the people. But when the people fear the government, progress is stagnant. When people try to protest to ask for better wage and are shot by the police, something that happened just months ago, progress is stagnant. When the locals say when asked about their government “We can’t say much. We’re not allowed to talk about him [the prime minister]”, progress is stagnant. There’s a lot to digest about the stagnant progression of a nation that once had the chance to be as flourished as it’s neighboring country.

For further information about Cambodia check out the documentary”Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll”

Siem Reap 05-19-15

The last time I was up at 4am was because I was celebrating through the night. This time it would be to celebrate something entirely different. We were on our way to watch the sunrise Angkor Wat. After just 4 hours of sleep, I was up and ready at 4:15 for a view that brought tears to my eyes.

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Sunrise outside of the moat

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Angkor Wat was originally built at the Hindu capital for the Khmer Empire and transformed into a Buddhist temple by the 12th center. That means this place has been standing for roughly 1000 years… Because of the transfer from Hindu to Buddhist purpose, some of the carvings and statues have been removed.  The structures have managed to be preserved in such a way that still baffles me. On top of that, 5,000-6,000 visitors come to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples per day. It’s been named one of the largest tourists attractions in the world and is also the filming site for Tomb Raider. Various conservation efforts are in place on a daily basis.

Hindu fragments have been taken out

Hindu fragments have been taken out

Detail of carvings on the interior

Detail of carvings on the interior

In the late afternoon we traveled to Angkor Artisans, a social enterprise with a very similar business platform to Reaching Out. Aimed at providing the underprivileged youth and misrepresented members of the population with a job, crafts ranged from basket weaving to soap making. One aspect present in Angkor Artisans that did not exist at Reaching Out was the presence of a working garden. Here, artisans crafted soaps, spices, teas, wines and many more. It really got my agricultural gear grinding and I thought of Costa Rica and the sustainable farm I worked on.

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Workers at Angkor Artisans work under fair trade principles and receive healthcare. However, to compare the two; Reaching out is privately owned and operated more efficiently. It seems that the workers at Angkor Artisans followed a mold of what to create, ultimately hindering creativity. Angkor Artisans also seemed to be owned and operated by the government. To compare the two in an extremely drastic and skewed way, it can be compared to social welfare and a NGO.

Later in the evening we were in for a sensory treasure. Phare, a Cambodian circus, focuses on providing education through the arts. Young children who are facing difficult times in the home or are living on the streets can come to this school to heal and express themselves through art. Art ranges from performing arts to music and studio art. The show that we saw, “Sokha”, retells the story of a girl who is haunted by the destruction exposed by the Khmer Rouge. Traumatized by grueling nightmares and memories, she harnesses this energy to dedicate in education through the arts. This story and all of the stories performed are based on real stories of the members of Phare. Sokha tells the story of the founding members and their struggle to overcome the stain of trauma after being refugees in Thailand.

Performers at Phare

Performers at Phare

Amazing coordination and balance

Amazing coordination

The most amazing component of the show is the ability to harness the passion and emotion from the performers. You truly get a sense of their dedication and commitment to the arts. You also begin to question their upbringing and what brought them to where they are. What traumatizing event has led them to dedicate themselves to becoming the most powerfully talented artists in all of Cambodia?

Today we went from a typical tourists destination, which don’t get me wrong is a must see, to a more sustainable model of tourism. When foreign money is being brought into a country, it is very important to understand where that money is being spent and if it’s going to a good cause. For example, many people think of Southeast Asia and say “OMG ELEPHANT RIDES!” and I think to myself “OMG LET ME TORTURE YOU THE WAY THEYRE TORTURED AND SEE IF YOU WANT TO GO FOR RIDE!”. Granted, not every elephant sanctuary practices inhumanely, but that’s why it’s important to do your research. I feel highly comfortable recommending anybody in Cambodia to visit the Phare circus because it’s for a well established and sustainable cause.