Dealing with typhoid and diarrhoea is not funny. Spending twice your family’s monthly income to get to a clinic and buy medicine is even worse.
Um Cheung, the chief of Kbhal Tra Lach village in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province, explains that when villagers fall ill, “we have to spend money on travelling to the government clinic far from the village and on medication. It can cost US$50”.
Adds village teacher Sot Sean: “When I get sick, I even have to borrow money and pay back with interest."
The culprit? Dirty water.
With little access to clean water, a vicious cycle of falling ill and paying for medical treatment leaves the villagers unable to escape the poverty trap.
For the villagers who mostly work in the numerous rice fields surrounding their village of colourful houses on high stilts, getting drinking water has always been difficult: carrying heavy pails of water from a well, waiting for rainwater to collect or even siphoning muddy, rusty water from a pond, followed by collecting firewood to boil the water.
So it was welcomed relief for Pov Ran, a rice farmer, to have a water filter installed in her home.
“I was the first in the village to have it, and neighbours and relatives would come and get filtered water from me," she said.
Pov Ran’s family no longer struggles with typhoid and diarrhoea, and 8,400 fellow villagers will soon see the backs of those diseases too. Over the next three years, 1,400 more filters are set to be installed in the village, thanks to the joint efforts of Cambodian NGO Sao Sary Foundation and the Singapore International Foundation.
The bio-sand filters, which cost US$28, are expected to last 10 years. They are built and installed by groups of visiting volunteers.
Besides enjoying a reunion with one of the families he helped install filters for, he was truly happy to see families sending their children to school with the money saved from medical bills.