Frontlines of a Water Fight
Watching him work today, you would never imagine Seur Seang was once a bundle of nerves speaking with villagers in rural Siem Reap.
But on his first village visit representing Water for Cambodia (WFC), "the sweat come out", he says with a laugh.
"The first time when I went to the field, I was not fluent how to talk with the villager, I feel not so good."
But after years working on the frontlines of the fight to give Cambodians access to clean water, the monitoring and evaluation official has become a pro. He's now not only able to find out villagers' needs when it comes to access to water, he's also earned their trust and respect.
This means that when Seur tells villagers how to sustainably maintain their biosand water filters or shares hygiene tips in handling the water, they listen.
The 33-year-old has been instrumental in helping non-profit WFC to build, install and maintain more than 12,000 biosand water filters, mostly in the rural areas around Siem Reap.
Much to do
Seur knows well that there is still much to do, though, because around six million of his countrymen continue to live without access to improved water facilities.
It's why he welcomes the help of volunteers from all over the world.
"When I work with volunteers we can...install more filters per day," he says.
For the volunteers, experiencing first-hand how difficult it is for the villagers to access clean water often leaves a deep impression.
Lee Song Yong volunteered through the Singapore International Foundation with six colleagues. He spent five days building and installing 20 water filters with WFC, an experience he found "genuinely humbling".
"Many of us have had experience living in kampongs (villages) and may have personally been to Siem Reap, but this was still insufficient to prepare us for the living conditions we witnessed. With April being the dry season, some villagers had to travel well over 3km just to fetch water we wouldn't even want to wash our hands with, not to mention drinking it unboiled and unfiltered."
He and his teammates were so fired up by their experience that when they got back to their financial advisory firm in Singapore, they rallied their colleagues in a fundraising effort for an additional 100 filters at US$50 each.
And their colleagues didn't disappoint, contributing enough for 274 filters so that 1,644 people could have clean water.
Eric Guerin, WFC's director of operations, said his team was encouraged by the volunteers and their colleagues.
"Not only are the volunteers donating their own money to support the project, they are also becoming the best ambassadors. By passionately sharing their experiences, relatives, friends and colleagues are motivated to become part of the adventure in their own way," he said.
Part of the adventure and part of the fight, to give everyone a chance to drink clean water.