Water project offered an interesting perspective of Cambodia (February 20, 2014)

Written by Steve Dills

Published by Sylvan Lake News on Thursday, February 20, 2014

Searching for something to do after graduating from university, a Sylvan Lake resident found an interesting opportunity in Cambodia.

An opportunity which she described as “definitely a culture shock” but something that has also helped her not only learn about the rest of the world but about herself. It also enhanced her love of travelling.

Karissa Noselski has just returned from seven months in the southeast Asian country which is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. She worked on water projects as an intern with Samaritan’s Purse which partners with Clear Cambodia. The internship was sponsored by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

“It’s amazing to see how different people live,” she said. Among her favourite experiences were those that involved working with the people and experiencing their lifestyle.

“They live very simply, it’s a beautiful country, a change of pace,” Noselski said.

Her job involved installing bio-sand water filters to provide clean drinking water for people who don’t otherwise have access to it. (The filter was invented by Dr. David Manz at the University of Calgary in the 1990s.)

Dirty water is poured into the concrete filter, flowing through sand and gravel. Organic material, parasites, micro-organisms and viruses are trapped in a biological layer that effectively removes these disease agents. The water which comes out the spout is free from pathogens, odour and cloudiness.

Each filter can produce 40 litres of clean water per hour and the filters can last for decades because there are no moving parts and no power supply is needed, according to information from Samaritan’s Purse.

Noselski said Clear Cambodia is the biggest implementer of the filters in the world. “I got to not only work on the technical side, constructing and installing filters, but also monitor and follow-up to see how people are liking and using them.”

“The other part was the educational aspect. Something I got to focus on was building capacity of the local staff so they can train and teach others.”

Based out of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, she and five other interns travelled to six different provinces.

“I got to see how the whole program works. My project specifically was a behaviour change project.” After being introduced to the project, she was challenged to make it more exciting and efficient.

One of her goals was changing behaviour so that the people weren’t just focused on water filters but also on washing hands with soap, using the latrine, understanding the importance of water health, hygiene and sanitation.

The people who received these filters were extremely grateful and so happy that there was someone out there willing to help improve living conditions in their country, Noselski indicated.

“I will never forget the time I went back for a three month visit to someone's home who I had met when they signed up for the program. They said to me, “you helped us ... thank you”. Many people want to give us fresh fruit off their trees to show their gratitude.

In some cases, we could tell simply by the smile on their face and their appreciation that for many people, this program has helped to save lives.

“Although I played a very small part of the incredible work they do at Samaritan's Purse and Clear Cambodia, it is so wonderful to see both local people and NGOs helping others to provide some of the basic needs like clean water — something that should be a human right, yet approximately half the developing world’s population (over one billion people) still lives without it.

“For many people, this filter means hope for the future. Clean water helps these families live healthy and happy lives, where they no longer have to worry about their family getting sick from dirty water.

“There is such a wonderful love that can be seen in this type of work that is inspiring and motivates you to continue to help move it forward, make a difference in people's lives, and improve quality of life all across the globe.”

Noselski’s travel in Cambodia allowed her to live in the provinces with staff, experience the countryside lifestyle and “really get to know the people” even though they spoke different languages. “Everyone smiled, would say hello.”

“They’re very welcoming, very friendly people,” she said. “I learned so much about not only the rest of the world, but myself being in such a different environment ... being uncomfortable, introduced to something different, eye-opening. It was definitely life-changing. I’ve never seen poverty like that. It opens your eyes to the amount of need in the world.”

Noselski earned a Bachelor of Community Design degree from the University of Dalhousie in Halifax in May, 2012 with a double major in Urban Design Studies and Sustainability.

While she grew up in Airdrie and headed to university when her parents moved to Sylvan Lake, she spent a couple of summers here working at Lakewood Golf Club, and considers the community her home.

“The international experience of seeing how people live in the rest of the world introduced me to the whole other side of planning or lack of planning,” she said. “In Cambodia they don’t have waste management, wastewater treatment systems, transportation. There isn’t much of a framework.”

Asked about her future, Noselski said, “It (the experience) hasn’t given me the answer to what I want to do for the rest of my life, but it made me think about finding a job that’s worthwhile, that I love to do and can help people who need help.”

She described her future as “limitless”.

“After this experience, I want to work in affordable housing, ending homelessness.”

“Absolutely there will be travelling in my future,” she added. “It was quite an opportunity to be able to live and work in a different culture, different country, really immerse yourself in that.”

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

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