In a few days, I will be traveling back to a place that has stolen pieces of my heart. I will be honest with you, for as much excitement as seeing my friends on the other side of the world brings, thinking about making the trek back to Cambodia is a little daunting, especially during such a hectic time of year. The cookie exchanges, ugly sweater parties, New Year celebrations, and endless holiday get-togethers have not left me much time to prepare for two weeks in a country that welcomes visitors with dusty roads, honking horns, and music that blares in the streets all day.
This three week trip will be much different than my last. From November 2014-February 2015, I was given the opportunity to live in a border town that lies between Cambodia and Bangkok called Poi Pet. My job seemed simple: manage a women’s job program called LandMine Design, that had been established in a village about 30 minutes outside of Poi Pet. Among other responsibilities, I was to continue work on health and hygiene education and implement water filtration instillation in the village.
On one of my first days in the village, I was spending time with one of the women employed by LandMine Design, Srey Roth. Srey Roth is the kind of person who leaves an impact on your life upon first meeting. She is incredibly kind and has the type of smile that could only come from true love and acceptance of those around her. I spent time talking to Srey about her life growing up in Cambodia, and also about water hygiene and why it was so important for the health of her family. She seemed unconvinced, so I decided to give it a rest and approach the topic at another time.
As the day continued, I watched as the children of Poi Pet ran around smiling, laughing, and playing with puppies, until I noticed one of Srey Roth’s sons, Rae. He was not smiling and playing with the other children, but instead he sat a distance away and watched with a grimace on his face. I decided to make my way over, thinking that he was upset about another child playing with his toy or perhaps teasing him about his chubby stomach. As I sat down, I noticed that his stomach was not chubby, it was extremely distended.
After some research and discussion, we decided that it would be a good idea to take Rae to see a doctor. Upon examination, the doctor explained that Rae had contracted parasites from the water source used by the community in the village. He decided to prescribe a deworming medication that would hopefully rid his little body of the parasites. Parasites are very common among the population in Cambodia and often, if left untreated, can result in death, especially among children. We purchased the medication and made our way back to the village.
On our journey home, one of my friends, who had been translating for me that day, brought up a point that had not crossed my mind. If Rae was taking the deworming medication, but continued to drink water from the contaminated source, he would eventually contract parasites again and be left in the exact same position. Feeling a bit embarrassed at my ignorance, I agreed as he also made the suggestion that we purchase clean water for Rae while he took his medication. So Rae took his medication and only drank clean water for one week.
And then something amazing happened.
After one of our meetings with the ladies of LandMine Design, Srey Roth approached me and my translator. She pointed to Rae, who was running around in circles with the other children as he laughed and smiled, and explained that she now understood the significance of clean water. Her son had been healed and his life had dramatically improved, and she wanted this gift for the rest of her family.
That week, Srey Roth and I worked on building a simple water filtration system for her home. I cannot explain to you how much joy it brings my heart to know that my friend on the other side of the world now has access to clean water and the ability to keep her family healthy.
Later this week, I will have the opportunity to visit Srey Roth and the other women who have impacted my life in ways that I will never be able to put into words. I cannot wait to hug each of them and hear stories from the time that has passed since I’ve been away.
As the new Marketing and Community Manager at Healing Waters, it is experiences like these that make me excited to work for an organization providing clean water and health & hygiene education to at-risk communities worldwide, as well as providing women the opportunity to feel empowered and like they can take on the world. I feel so blessed to call this organization my new home and look forward to sharing more stories with all of you!