Walk through our work site with Executive Director, Chris Coats
Executive Director, Chris Coats, covers what volunteers do and how vital they are to Trailblazer Foundation. You also get to see and learn more about our four programs: Health, Food Security, Education and Economic Development.
Learn more about the process Trailblazer Foundation uses in finding recipients for wells and water filters through the Village Integrated Workshops.
See first hand how we construct a Bio-sand Water filter at our work site in Cambodia.
Learn about the life and maintenance of Trailblazer Foundation's bio-sand water filters.
Photo to the left: Tom Skeele, Trailblazer's Board President; Chris Coats, Trailblazer's Co-Founder and Board Executive; and Nick Monroe, Trailblazer Volunteer
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!
Claire Grady's Experience
John is from the city of Durham, North Carolina in the USA. In October 2018 he spent a week volunteering at Trailblazer in Siem Reap, helping make bio-sand water filters. John chatted with our new Board member Justine Auton on his final day on the project.
Justine: John, thanks for the great contribution you’ve made this week! Tell me, how did you come to volunteer for Trailblazer?
John: I found out about the project a couple of years ago from someone who used to work for Trailblazer. She told me about it in the best way – at a poolside bar! I was in Siem Reap at that time working on a Habitat for Humanity project, so I was interested to talk to other people involved in community development. It was kismet really – I got to talk to someone in the know at a time my interest in Siem Reap was growing. I was horrified to hear about how people in the villages were getting water, the poor quality of the water and the health impacts of that water on them.
Justine: Why did you turn that interest into action?
John: I guess it stuck in my mind and I decided that at some point I wanted to come and do something to help. I was interested to find out how they (Trailblazer) do what they do in creating bio-sand water filters. What even were bio-sand water filters?!
Justine: It sounds like you’re not new to this volunteering business – what have you done and why?
John: In my younger days I saw some terrible, just terrible poverty at home in Appalachia and it motivated me to get involved with volunteering programmes while I was in college. I suppose that experience stuck with me as in recent years I’ve been involved with Habitat for Humanity and worked on nine projects overseas.
Justine: What have you got out of volunteering with Trailblazer and your wider volunteering experiences?
John: The Trailblazer work was interesting. Learning about the simple and effective “technology” of bio-sand water filters was great. I also got to spend time in a village helping to install the filters and saw first hand the living conditions of people. It reminded me of the Appalachian area at home and it felt good to do something to help.
More generally, volunteering has taught me a lot about myself – things I wish I’d known in my professional life. My big take away is to “go with the flow”. Don’t get hung up on the details. Be flexible. I’ve learned to be patient. I was NEVER Mr Patient!
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.
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