Gracious Host on the Tonlé Sap

Yesterday, Arun and I flew from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which is just a few minutes away from the famous temple, Angkor Wat, to visit a floating village on the Tonlé Sap, which is commonly translated as the “great lake.” Tonlé Sap is a 75 mile seasonally inundated freshwater lake that has an attached river, which eventually leads to the Mekong River.  The floating village is a community of wooden huts on top of empty 55-gallon drums or other floating devices that have been on the great lake for generations.  It is where Arun worked on her project to bring floating toilets to the community to help improve the sanitary conditions that have plagued residents on Tonlé Sap for many years. The village is only 10 miles away from our hotel, but our arrival took well over an hour because we had to drive on an uneven dirt road that required us to drive very slowly.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the community leader, an older gentleman that I’m guessing to be in his mid to late 60’s, who took us on one of the commonly used boats on the river.  Whle streaming down the river we would eventually slow down to visit three families who welcomed us into their home.  The families were very gracious hosts and allowed me to see how their toilets are constructed in their homes.  Some of the toilets had better privacy than others, but all were constructed the same way (squat toilet connected to blue 55-gallon drums located below the wooden floor and a ventilation pipe to prevent odor).  When asked if they like their toilet everyone did not hesitate to say “yes” with one woman saying she is experiencing a significant decrease of diarrhea in her children. The toilets were installed at no cost, but if they had to pay one woman said she could afford $60 to $100, but anything more than that would make it unaffordable (according Arun, it cost $300 per home for one floating toilet).  When the drums a full of waste, the community leader will empty the barrels on dry land, which is not ideal, but remember from my last post, Cambodia does not have wastewater treatment plants, so the dry land is better than the river or lake, which would defeat the purpose for having a toilet in the first place. In addition to the toilets, all three homes had a unique, but very simple water filtering system that we observed. The water the village sits on is not like lake water in the U.S.  The best way to describe Tonlé Sap river water is that it looks like chocolate milk so, as you can imagine, it’s undrinkable. Each home we visited had a bucket of lake water and attached to the bucket was one 4-inch filter that was lowered down below the bucket opening and gravity did the rest. The dirty water goes through the filter and drips out clean clear water that was being stored water jugs.  The filter can deliver one 1 liter of water in 60 seconds.  It’s a game changer for clean drinking water in the community.   Not only is it simple to use and effective, but it’s also cheap to purchase.  One filtration kit cost $95.00 on Amazon and a bucket with a faucet cost $40.00.  For less than $175 (includes shipment) every home in the floating village can have clean drinking water!  For less than $500 homes can have both sanitation and drinking water! Arun informed me that approximately 131 homes do not have a toilet or water filtering system in the village we visited. Think of the difference we can make in one community if we can raise $65,500? Sounds like a new challenge for me.

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