From contaminated to clean (March 22, 2014)

Written by Hillary Rose

Published by Tabaret on Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 22 is World Water Day. Around the world, people will take part in events to raise awareness of water issues and to call for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. While in Canada we take safe water for granted, in developing countries like Cambodia millions of people have no choice but to drink, cook and wash with contaminated water, and water-related illnesses persist in rural areas, especially among children. During a seven-month Samaritan’s Purse Canada (SPC) internship with the NGO Clear Cambodia, alumna Nicole Jones helped to make a difference in the lives of those with limited access to safe water.

Nicole graduated from the Faculty of Social Sciences’ School of International Development and Global Studies last June, the same month she left for Cambodia to start her internship. She worked with Clear Cambodia to help increase rural Cambodian communities’ access to clean potable water through the use of BioSand filters, as well as to educate communities on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle through proper hand washing, using a latrine and drinking filtered water.

A BioSand water filter.

One of Nicole’s major projects was to reinforce the educational work Clear Cambodia was already doing. Along with two other interns, she equipped staff with the necessary tools to encourage lasting behavioural change.

“For example, we encouraged staff to teach families the importance of maintaining proper hygiene and drinking filtered water, and to share this knowledge between family members. If only one member knows how to use and maintain the filter, it defeats the purpose of the project.”

Nicole also worked with staff to implement their ideas. “They have a wealth of knowledge having lived in Cambodia their entire lives. We accompanied them on their field visits to better understand the process already in place to educate communities, promote the use of water filters and good sanitation, and install and monitor the BioSand filters. We then determined what aspects of their work we could help enhance. In the end, we got to see how the material we developed was being implemented from start to finish,” she explains.

With the staff’s input, Nicole and her team developed a program guide and some tools that were presented as a final product. However, it was important for the material to be adaptable.

“We wanted to create something that could be adjusted according to the evolving needs of Clear Cambodia and the communities they service,” she says.

Nicole credits her uOttawa CO-OP experience for helping her to get this opportunity.

“The work experience I gained through the CO-OP program was crucial to securing this internship. Without CO-OP, I would not have had the experience necessary to apply. The program not only enriched my undergraduate experience, but helped me to get where I am today.”

Two Cambodian women use a BioSand filter to purify their water.

Over the course of her internship, Nicole travelled to six different provincial offices, where she lived in staff housing, similar to how most people live in rural Cambodia. She helped cook outside, used a latrine, took bucket showers and drank water from a BioSand filter.

“I had a lot to learn on the cultural side of things. My degree helped me understand how a variety of issues are intertwined in a situation and gave me some background knowledge of what a project like this one may look like. This experience gave me a new appreciation for the challenges faced by communities who have limited access to safe water.”

Through her internship, Nicole also discovered that she would like to pursue a career working overseas, and she looks forward to taking on a more long-term position in the near future.

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