“I wanted to let you know about my incredible experience volunteering with the crew. I just returned from my sabbatical after 10 weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. Trailblazer was one of the highlights of my travels!
The best part about my experience was really meeting the people, and specifically the crew at Trailblazer. Heng, Sambo, Mr. T were so wonderful and caring. While in Siem Reap, I stayed at a hostel and rented a bike for 2 weeks to get back and forth from the site. That was the best decision as I had the freedom to come and go, and while at the hostel I met so many interesting people. I found a lovely balance between putting in time at Trailblazer as well as meeting others and exploring Siem Reap on my own. The weeks at Trailblazer included physical labor, a deeper cultural understanding of Cambodia, and a window into the needs of people, especially in the rural areas of Siem Reap. My time included a steep learning curve, where I tried to find ways to be more helpful during my days. While I was at Trailblazer, Heng was the crew member I had the most contact with. He was leading the day to day operations of making the water filters. His brother Sambo was a huge help as well. Mr. T was also a steady and hardworking presence. His English was the most limited, but he was such a positive and calm soul, that he showed me how to do many of the tasks on the site. I thoroughly enjoyed working with these guys, and together, we were able to get a significant amount of work done each day.
It was also a pleasure to meet Ratanak, the director. I approached him at the end of the first week to hopefully make an appointment when he and I could talk about the organization, and more specifically, the clean water needs of Cambodians. During this conversation, I mentioned that I was a teacher, upon which he quickly responded, "Then you need to teach the crew English." I am not an English teacher, and I said that I would feel more comfortable if that interest came from the crew themselves, rather than from him. He mentioned that the guys at Trailblazer would benefit from English instruction, and asked if I could give them an English lesson on Saturday (the next day) for 2.5 hours. He had a quick meeting with the team, and told me they agreed and would arrive in the morning to learn. Me and six of the guys practiced conversational English all morning. It was actually a very productive morning and a wonderful way to get to know them even more. We talked about family life, foods we like, work and commuting to work, and our personal interests. I was so endeared to this group of young men... they are awesome.
Getting out into the villages was a highlight, and I loved going to the rural areas to deliver the water filters! Heng was amazing. With each family, he was kind and professional as he took the time to train them about the biofiltration system. I enjoyed meeting the families and helping with setting up the water filter. Oftentimes, the family would want to just chat with us, and the children were always so curious about the western folks at their homes. On a few occasions, the families offered us food or a beverage which was so kind. Watching Heng do the training and Mr. T or Sambo assisted with setting up the biofiltration systems was awesome. The local chief accompanied us to each of the homes as well. The system of transporting and setting up the water filters is very smooth.”
In 2012 we decided to visit Cambodia as a family. Myself, husband, daughter and one of her mates tagged along. It was a wonderful experience visiting the Angkor Wat temples and other sightseeing areas in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but mostly we enjoyed meeting the people. So calm, friendly and genuinely nice people. After a little while we came to understand that a large portion of the population were living without the basic necessities of life. The main one, of course, is clean drinking water.
On our return to Australia we discussed the fact that the Cambodian people needed assistance and that we would like to do something to help. We returned to Siem Reap the following year to check out various NGOs and we had the good fortune to meet with Scott, who along with Chris were the original founders of Trailblazer. We loved what he had to say about the work they were doing based around providing clean water, ie: wells and bio-sand filters. We then committed to not only donating to the cause but volunteering at the work site on a yearly basis.
Since that time, we have had the pleasure of seeing Trailblazer's great work, and being part of it has brought so much joy and satisfaction to us both. To help make the bio-sand filters, deliver them to the villages and see the smiles it brings is wonderful.
We are always welcomed with open arms and we not only enjoy the company of the young Cambodian people that Trailblazer employs, but we have made life long friends from all parts of the world.
We just love being part of it and would highly recommend the experience to others. In fact when we return next, we will be bringing some friends with us so they can enjoy the same experience.
The photo to the right is of one of our volunteers, Justine Auton, who hails from Wellington, New Zealand. Justine volunteered at our worksite helping construct bio-sand water filters and then donated enough money for fifteen water filters and now is one of Trailblazer Foundation's newest Board Member.
She refers to her time with Trailblazer as her Revenge Tour. Here is part of her story:
It all started with a mouthful of lettuce four years ago, and ended with two weeks of hard work making bio-sand water filters. The lettuce my friend ate while we were in Siem Reap had likely been washed with local, unpurified water, and hours later she got sick. For four days. Upon my return home, I resolved to get even with that water, and my payback was a two-week stint volunteering with Trailblazer.
In the months before leaving on what I referred to as my Revenge Tour, I ask my friends for donations to fund my idea of taking toothbrushes to the kids. With 1,500 toothbrushes in my luggage, this past October I headed back to Siem Reap.
I’m doing another revenge tour next year, having discovered it’s an antidote to the stress of life here at home. I hope to see you there!
Photo to the left: Tom Skeele, Trailblazer's Board Member; Chris Coats, Trailblazer's Co-Founder and Board Executive; and Nick Monroe, Trailblazer Volunteer and one of our newest Board Members.
Trailblazer’s Executive Director, Chris Coats, talked with Nick Munro, a volunteer who worked with our staff in Cambodia, about his experience. Here is that conversation:
What inspired you to volunteer with Trailblazer?
When I was in my early twenties and working at my first job, I got a bit restless and realized it might be a good time to see the world. Serendipity struck, and a college buddy asked if I would help him raise money to start a non-profit in South America. Three months later I quit my job, and was digging latrines in the remote mountains of Peru.
After this initial volunteer experience, I was hooked. There is no better way to visit a country, meet the locals, and make a positive impact. Fast forward another few years and my girlfriend, Cortney, and I were in South East Asia looking for the same experience. Luckily, we found Trailblazer.
What did you like the most about the experience?
We loved meeting local people and understanding their culture. Getting to know the families, and being a part of their daily lives, really put everything we do into perspective. I know that is cliché, but it truly changes the way you experience your world.
Trailblazer in particular, proved the importance of the interaction between an organization and the people they are serving. The communities were so involved that it made the work that much easier and fulfilling. Seeing the direct impact to each family, in only a few days, was beyond our expectations.
Additionally, we experienced some amazing things that would not be accessible to most casual tourists. Catching fish in a rice canal and eating ant salsa with cucumber chips are not your average happy hour events.
Where do you live?
We’re originally from the Lone Star State (Texas), but we currently live in beautiful San Francisco, California.
Did your volunteer experience impact the work you do now? How?
We both work in advertising and design, which seems worlds away from installing water filters in Cambodia, but there are some very key parallels. Volunteering for organizations like Trailblazer, teaches you how to fully utilize your creativity and ingenuity. Things often don’t go as planned, and improvising on the fly is a valuable skill.
Also, I don’t take modern conveniences for granted; running water, the internet, and of course, delicious burritos.