Chris and Scott Coats first visited Cambodia in February 2002. They were en route between stints as volunteers in the South Pacific and Europe. While in the Siem Reap area, they were touched by the affability of the Cambodian people, and the apparent needs these people had in their daily struggle to survive. In February 2003, Chris and Scott returned with their daughter, and spent two months researching how they could help. In May 2004, Chris Coats and founding Board member Karin Ralph, returned to meet with government officials, and commit to a project.
This was the start of Trailblazer Foundation. Chris, Scott, and Karin were blazing a trail of rural community development and support into the poorest parts of Siem Reap province.
In January 2005, Scott and Chris moved to Siem Reap to begin their first project - building a new school. During this project, they noticed the lack of clean water. Realizing that this lack of potable water was a primary source of struggle for the villagers, Trailblazer Foundation committed to installing the village’s first two wells, at the school site. Water projects have been at the foundation of all our community development work since then, thus our tagline of “developing ripples of sustainability through community water projects.”
Why We Exist...
As most people are aware, there is a great need for rural community development assistance throughout the world.
Cambodia is no exception. According to Setsuko Yamazaki, country director of the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia, “Cambodia’s GDP has risen dramatically in recent years, almost double the global average. Behind this growth, however, remain levels of poverty and inequality that need to be addressed.”
Siem Reap, the province where Trailblazer conducts the vast majority of its projects, is one of the three poorest provinces in Cambodia. It is also home to world-renowned Angkor Wat, the largest complex of historic religious temples anywhere on earth. One of the great ironies about life in Siem Reap province is that, while almost two million tourists come to experience Angkor Wat each year, very little of that economic influx makes its way to the nearby rural villages. Without some sort of technical and financial support, these communities cannot develop beyond a level of subsistence, and remain in a state of poverty where they struggle to merely survival.
It is for these reasons that Trailblazer Foundation is committed to improving health, food security, education, and economic development in rural Cambodia in ways that are self-sustaining by the individuals and communities we serve.
Trailblazer is most well-known for our work in helping villages in the Siem Reap Province secure clean, healthy, and abundant water - because water is life. For each of the more than 50 villages, and counting, we start by focusing on water projects – working with the community members to develop wells, and produce water filters.
Yet, we also realize that our partner villages do not just need pure and plentiful water. They also need ample food to feed their families, good education facilities for their children, and opportunities to make a living so they can feed and educate their families. This is why Trailblazer Foundation sees access to clean and abundant water as the foundation for building a sustainable community – “developing ripples of sustainability through community water projects.”
“We began with a school project, but quickly learned that water was the first priority. A person must have access to clean, potable water to improve health and sanitation. People must also have a water resource for growing their crops, livestock, and fish—the source of their food and commerce. Bad water is the cause of illness, malnutrition, and poverty. When there is good water, associated developments can occur to improve livelihoods and establish sustainable commerce.”
Co-founder and Executive Director Chris Coats speaking about the origins of Trailblazer Foundation