CHARIS volunteers, villagers and Caritas Cambodia staff working on the base of the bio-sand filtration tank.

Thirteen volunteers from CHARIS embarked on a mission trip to train staff of Caritas Cambodia and villagers to build a bio-sand water filtration system, which provides clean drinking water at low cost.

The Feb 12-18 trip to the rural village of Beng Mealea, which is about 65 km away from the main town of Siem Reap, Cambodia, saw the CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore) volunteers working with villagers as well as Caritas Cambodia staff.

The aim was to get them acquainted with the setup of the bio-sand filtration tank.

Before commencing work, the volunteers attended Mass at St John’s Catholic Church in Siem Reap.

Fr Totet Banaynal, a Filipino Jesuit, reminded volunteers that their encounter with the villagers would be that of grace, mission and friendship.

The project saw the filtration system constructed entirely out of material sourced from within the village area, making it a sustainable endeavour that can be easily replicated by villages throughout rural Cambodia.

The effort of hand washing the sand to remove the organic matter from the sand was done by both villagers and volunteers. This time spent together was an opportunity for fellowship for both parties as they learnt about each other’s culture through activities such as song-singing.

At the end of the mission, a maintenance team was formed amongst the villagers to maintain the tank.

Mr Michael Tai, 64, a first time volunteer with CHARIS said, “The villagers welcomed us with open arms, sharing their food with us. We were tired but it was always a joy to be working with them.”

Ms Bernadette Glisse, director of the Community Health and Livelihood Programmes of Caritas Cambodia in Siem Reap, expressed optimism for the system and hopes that it would improve the health of the villagers and that it can be replicated in other villages and schools in the future.

As Cambodia experiences the ongoing impact of climate change, clean water has become a very precious resource in the region. Caritas Cambodia is hoping to improve access to clean water and thus improve the health of the villagers.

The villagers have been using water from contaminated water ponds for drinking, washing and cooking.

Between 2015 and 2016, CHARIS had assisted in the building and training of five biosand systems in Sri Lanka, Bogo City and Romblon in the Philippines.

By James Khoo and Victoria Lim

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