World Water Week
My family visited Siem Reap, Cambodia last year and visited the staggeringly beautiful temples of Angkor Wat, awesome sights I never imagined I'd see in this lifetime. Our guide Sothy had the glowing inner peace we saw in so many Buddhists on our trip, despite the horrors he and his countrymen had suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Traveling in Buddhist countries put our western lifestyle in a new perspective for me, and I still reflect on the remarkable calm and kindness of the people we met in Cambodia and Thailand.
But the people of Siem Reap are crushingly poor.
Sothy took my family on a boat trip on a large lake from which we were able to observe a village in the course of its everyday life. We saw the residents washing their clothes on the rocks beside the lake, cooking in their open-air huts and going about their humble business, all with water dipped from the lake which also carried human waste. Both their humanity and their poverty affected us deeply and we came away asking Sothy how an outsider could help his much-abused country.
Most of their physical problems stemmed from poor sanitation, he explained, and a pump in a village could bring hygiene, safer food and improved health. When a village got a water pump, diarrhea dropped almost to zero and child death rates plummeted.
A pump in a village allowed the children, especially girls, to go to school instead of spending their days carrying water from the nearest river. Families could grow gardens and sometimes establish small businesses. My wife, a professor at NKU, has always believed that education is the key to a better life, and it became clear that safe water was the key to getting an education for these people.
We asked, "How much does it cost to install a pump for a village?"
"Very expensive," answered Sothy. "About one hundred American dollars."
We stared at each other. How many hundred dollars have we wasted in our lifetimes? Our new mission was clear. Through the organization Journeys Within Our Community we have been financing wells and scholarships since our return home.
One more story: My stepdaughter Mandi took action then and there. She began buying up the handmade bracelets children sell at every tourist stop, usually ten for a dollar. When Mandi returned home she sold the bracelets at her school for two dollars each and ultimately raised enough money to finance eleven village pumps in Cambodia all by herself.