Every day, our dedicated volunteers work with us on a variety of important projects that make a real impact in the communities of Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. From planting seeds in our organic test gardens to drilling wells in rural villages, there are a wide variety of ways that you, as a volunteer can lend your skills to make a difference with Trailblazer.
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.
Below is the majority of a letter we received from a former volunteer that I thought you may find interesting. Volunteers play a vital role in the successful implementation of Trailblazer's work. We thank everyone who has volunteered with us over the past 15 years.
"Hello, my name is Dominico, I am writing this letter to show my gratitude for being able to participate in your water filtration project. Your program was much more accessible for volunteer participation than many other international non-profit organizations…. because it shows your desire to obtain whatever help or resources you can to accomplish your humanitarian efforts…. to provide aid in the most effective way possible.
Working with the locals was a lot more engaging than doing the work at home, isolated from the culture that is actually using the provided aid. Understanding that locals were employed to stimulate development in the area was a noteworthy feature of the program….. I also valued that volunteers could participate in all stages of development, even delivery. While being educational and allowing you to see the impact of your actions on the lives of Cambodian families, it also gives a sense of transparency that makes the mission statement seem credible and honest.
Thank you, immensely, for this rare opportunity. The reward has helped me have a grasp on the disconnection of cultural understanding."
I worked with Trailblazer for a week in October 2017. A week just wasn’t long enough! The vision of the team to make a difference was fantastic and working on the creation of the water filters identified the power of bottom up development. The highlight of the week was going into the more remote areas and installing the filters. Being during rainy season, it was clear that it wasn’t a lack of water that was the issue, the impact and extent of flooding was evident. However,what Trailblazer do is to change the lives of people by providing these essential filters. As a teacher back in the U.K. I have talked with my students about the work of Trailblazer and its importance to development. I really hope to return to the project, but for much longer next time.
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!
Mrs. Rihampol lives with her husband and child, a five-year-old boy, in extremely poor conditions in a village an hour north of Siem Reap. Even by rural Siem Reap standards, this is a deprived area of the country.
Our Board member, Justine Auton and Mr. Sor Ratanak, our Field Director for Trailblazer Angkor, stopped in to have a chat with Mrs. Rihampol after seeing a Trailblazer biofilter next to her house. Mrs. Rihampol shyly agreed to talk to Justine.
Mrs. Rihampol is young, maybe 20, and her life experiences have been exclusively in this village. She was born here, did some schooling here and married here. She lives much the same life, in the same state of poverty, that her own mother did.
In 2016 Laura and Conor Nelson, supporters of Trailblazer from Minnesota, USA, donated a biofilter and their filter ended up with this family. The filter stands in pride of place next to water pump and it is very well cared for.
Justine asked Mrs. Rihampol about the filter, which is shared with a neighbor.
“The water tastes good!” was the much-repeated response. “The water from the pump tastes bad, but after it goes through the filter it tastes so good. Even if the water I put into it is very dirty, it comes out clean.”
Justine asked about the impact the filter had had on the family.
“One month after we started drinking the clean water my little boy stopped being sick and we all stopped having diarrhea. We don’t have a latrine. It was very bad before…. being like that. We use the water for drinking and for cooking.”
How had the family come to have a filter?
“We had got the water pump before and had heard of filters. We asked the Chief to get one. We paid US$3 which took us two weeks to save up.”
Justine asked Mrs. Rihampol what the most important thing was about the filter.
“It tastes so good! I’ve had water from other filters but this one is the best!”
Pictured is the family home and Mrs. Rihampol proudly showing her filter to Justine.
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