Lien AID Shines the Spotlight on WASH Heroes in Myanmar

This Global Handwashing Day, non-profit organisation Lien AID is shining the spotlight on some individuals who are striving to improve safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access in their communities – local WASH heroes. Through its interventions, Lien AID seeks to enable these local WASH heroes to accelerate and sustain safe WASH access in rural communities across the Ayeyarwady.

U Soe Thein, Village Tract Administrator of Kan Gyi village tract, Myaungmya township, is a WASH Hero who has been a driving force in promoting safe hygiene behavior in the villages he manages. He encourages health assistant to conduct frequent hygiene promotion sessions and at the same time, urges villagers to attend these sessions during his regular village meetings.

As part of the pilot collaboration between Lien AID and the Myaungmya Township Department of Rural Development, U Soe Thein also played a key role in working closely with the water management committee in Kan Gyi village to canvas for additional funds to improve existing village water infrastructure. Research has shown that safe hygiene is less likely to be practiced in households that do not have readily available water (source).

Villagers collecting water at one of the water collection points. U Soe Thein played a key role in working closely with the water management committee in Kan Gyi village to canvas for additional funds to improve existing village water infrastructure.

U Kyaw Min Oo, a member of the water management committee in Kan Gyi village, is another WASH Hero who is passionate about improving water access for his community. Working with village health assistants and the school development committee, he also helped find a way for the school to have access to clean water through a water filtering system. U Kyaw Min Oo also contributed significantly towards the construction, operations, and maintenance of water infrastructure in the village by mobilising households to contribute funds for capital costs and regular payment of user fees.

U Kyaw Min Oo also helped find a way for the village school to have access to clean water through a water filtering system

“The river is our main water source. We use this water for cooking, drinking, and washing. But now, with the new tube well, we have clean water. This is because of everyone’s contribution so we are all heroes”, U Kyaw Min Oo humbly said.

Villagers used to rely on river as the main water source

Tenacious and committed, local WASH Heroes like U Soe Thein and U Kyaw Min Oo play a critical role in improving and sustaining safe WASH access for rural communities. Mr. Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID commented, “We hope to recognise and encourage more local organisations and individuals to become WASH Heroes, and catalyse collective action towards the shared goal of 100% WASH access.”

Water is Luxury: Perspectives on Socially Inclusive Water and Sanitation Services and Enterprises

Why is clean water still a luxury for communities in Asia? And how is this issue being addressed today by non-profits, social enterprises, and the private sector? Last month, UBS staff in Singapore gathered to hear diverse perspectives on socially inclusive water and sanitation services and enterprises, in an event organised by Lien AID. Featuring a line-up of esteemed panellists from the social enterprise, impact investing, and international water sector, the panel discussion was held in conjunction with Lien AID’s Windows of Hope exhibition. The 2-day exhibition enabled UBS staff to travel virtually to a rural village and experience the impact of Lien AID’s clean water project in the community through immersive video.

The head of corporate communications at UBS, Ms Julie Yeo, made the opening remarks to a full audience, and welcomed them to the panel discussion. Mr Ian Chen, programme manager at Lien AID and the panel moderator, subsequently touched upon the discussion format which involved presentations by the panellists followed by an interactive question and answer session, covering sub-topics such as socio-economic impacts of inclusive water and sanitation services in developing economies, as well as the challenges and future opportunities within the space.

Ms. Rebecca Paranjothy, co-founder of Freedom Cups.

The first speaker, Ms Rebecca Paranjothy, cofounder of Freedom Cups, shared the positive social impact Freedom Cups has made through its socially inclusive enterprise approach towards menstrual hygiene and sanitation. Freedom cups is a social enterprise operating on a buy-1, give-1 model to distribute reusable silicone menstrual cups to women in rural communities.  Rebecca shared that almost a quarter of girls in rural countries drop out of school the moment their first period hits due to a lack of facilities or supplies. With the use of Freedom Cups, women will be able to get through a full month of school or work and not fall behind their male counter parts in terms of education or income.

Mr. Frodo Van Oostveen, Managing Director at The Water Agency.

Mr Frodo Van Oostveen, cofounder and managing director of The Water Agency, a network orchestrator for the international water sector, spoke next and explained the critical importance of collaborative partnerships in developing innovative approaches towards addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges. Frodo emphasised the importance of finding the right flow of collaboration and highlighted the need for governments to implement regulatory frameworks to ensure standards are met; for private companies to step forward with innovative ideas to address water challenges; and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to share local insights and building strong relationships on the ground.

Mr. Robert Kraybill, Managing Director, Portfolio Management at Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) Asia.

Mr Robert Kraybill, managing director of Portfolio Management of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) Asia, rounded up the panel presentations with insights on the role of impact investing in supporting and accelerating the growth of social enterprises in developing economies. IIX is the home of the world’s first social stock exchange and the world’s largest private placement platform for impact investing. Drawing on his experiences, Robert said that a key challenge for social enterprises is making clean water devices accessible and affordable for rural families that often live on $3 – $6 a day. He shared that a social enterprise in Indonesia was able to resolve clean water challenges with support from IIX by selling water filters to households on credit through the local women entrepreneur network.

During the interactive question and answer session, a wide range of related topics were discussed, such as increasing education on WASH issues, the application of financial engineering to ensure the sustainability of WASH initiatives, and ways in which technology and innovation can enable safe WASH access in developing nations. Insights from the panel forum pointed to the importance of collective effort to overcome complex WASH challenges and dialogue between governments, NGOs, foundations, and the private sector.

More about Lien AID:

Founded in 2006, Lien AID is a Singapore-based international non-profit organisation with the mission to improve the health and well-being of last-mile communities in Asia by enabling sustainable access to clean water and sanitation. Leveraging our ties with local governments, international foundations, and partners, we have successfully mobilised funds, knowledge, and technical skills to deliver water and sanitation interventions across 6 countries in Asia – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – in more than 3,000 villages, 80 schools, and 50 health centres. In the process, we have impacted the lives of nearly 1,000,000 people.

Thingyan momentum puts greater focus on Myanmar’s water needs

This Water Festival, amid splashy fun and communal gatherings, Myanmar will welcome not only the Myanmar New Year, but also the beginning of the UN International Decade (2018-2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

According to UN projections, by 2025, half of the countries across the world will face water stress or outright shortages. By 2050, as many as three out of four people could be affected by water scarcity[1]. The new Decade, in continuation of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade (2005-2015), will focus on sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives[2].

Resolving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges in Myanmar, as well as other Asian countries where rural communities are suffering from a lack of access to clean water, is key for Lien AID, whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of last-mile communities in Asia by enabling sustainable access to clean water and sanitation.

Just last week, Lien AID concluded a month-long experiential public exhibition in Singapore titled Windows of Hope. Held in three public locations from March 20 to April 8, the exhibition allowed the public a unique chance to journey into rural Myanmar and Cambodia through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations, and see for themselves the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them. The exhibition will continue to be open to companies who wish to host it in their premises.

A participant viewing the virtual reality video during the exhibition at 313@Somerset

Mr. Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID said: “Through the immersive 360° VR experience in Windows of Hope, we hope that more people will gain a better understanding of the impact of water challenges in our neighbouring countries. It takes collective effort across sectors – from governments to corporations, individuals, non-profits and academia – to solve the problem of sustaining access to clean water for the rural communities.”

In 2016, Lien AID launched a pilot clean water project in Tetma village, Mandalay, which consisted of a gravity-fed piped water system that distributes water from an existing tube well to shared water points in the village. Last year, Lien AID launched another pilot initiative in five villages across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In addition, the communities were also engaged through workshops on basic rural water management and hygiene, in an effort to raise their capacity and improve the sustainability of the project.

This year, Lien AID will continue to partner with local governments, civil society organisations and communities in Myanmar to improve overall WASH standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH goals.

“The challenge often lies in understanding how to adapt solutions for specific locations, socio-political contexts and WASH issues, and ensuring sustainable outcomes. One key success we have achieved in Myanmar would be the strong working relationships that we have forged with our local partners, such as the Department of Rural Development, local civil society organisations and community leaders. These partnerships have enabled us to co-create solutions to enable access to clean water and sanitation for last-mile communities,” added Mr. Koh.

Lien AID first launched Windows of Hope last year, bringing it to various organisations in Singapore – AECOM, Allen & Gledhill, Arup, Asia-Europe Foundation, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young and Expedia. More information on Windows of Hope can be found at

A version of this press release was published in Myanmar Business Today. 

Get a glimpse into life without clean water at Windows of Hope in the lead-up to World Water Day

Lien AID opens roving VR exhibition to the public for the first time to raise awareness on rural Asia’s water and sanitation crisis

This World Water Day (22 March), step into the shoes of over 200 million people in Asia who lack access to clean water at Windows of Hope, an experiential exhibition organised by Singapore non-profit organisation Lien AID. The roving exhibition aims to raise awareness on the region’s water challenges and what is being done to resolve them, by giving the public a unique chance to journey into Cambodia and Myanmar through virtual reality (VR) technology and physical installations.

Windows of Hope opens today and will be held at the following locations:

Date Time Location
20 – 21 March 2018 10am – 10pm 313@Somerset L1 Atrium
22 – 23 March 2018 8am – 8pm Ocean Financial Centre Open Space
2 – 8 April 2018 10am – 9pm Star Vista B1 Atrium

The VR video featured in Windows of Hope was shot in Preaek Chrey Village, Kandal Province in Cambodia. The villagers in the often-flooded rural area mostly rely on dirty river water or rainwater for drinking, cooking and washing. It is estimated that prior to Lien AID’s intervention, villagers spent on average 25 to 40 minutes preparing water (collecting, filtering, boiling, etc.) before drinking it. The alternative source of clean water was imported bottled water sold by a private company in Vietnam, which costs up to 3,000 Riel/bottle (USD 0.75).

Worker cleaning and disinfecting the bottles inside the water treatment plant at Preaek Chrey commune

To address this challenge, Lien AID has set up a water treatment and bottling plant in Preaek Chrey village that benefits the entire commune. The plant is operated and run by a water entrepreneur selected from local villages through a rigorous evaluation process, and a water management committee comprising local government officials was also formed to regulate the provision of water services. They were subsequently trained in basic rural water management and business skills. 75 such projects have been completed in Cambodia, and this project in Preaek Chrey village alone enabled an estimated 3,624 villagers from 929 households across Preaek Chrey commune to gain better and more affordable access to clean drinking water.

Last year, Lien AID also launched new pilot initiatives across three townships in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, enabling an estimated 3,866 villagers to gain improved access to clean water. In 2018, Lien AID will continue to partner with the local government to empower and equip community leaders to improve overall WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) standards in the villages, as well as work on fostering institutional collaborations amongst government and non-government partners to meet the national 2030 WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) goals.

Globally, more than two billion people drink unsafe water, and over 4.5 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, according to a report[1] released in March by the United Nations and World Bank Group. Through Windows of Hope, Lien AID hopes to reach out to a much wider audience and galvanise greater support in solving the root cause of the water and sanitation crisis. Individuals can make a difference simply by sharing about the issue on social media and helping to generate greater awareness of Lien AID’s work. Companies which would like to offer their employees a unique opportunity to experience immersive 360˚ technology and play a part in bringing clean water to rural communities in Asia can also contact for the roving exhibition to visit their offices.

More information on Windows of Hope can be found at

The Jaggery Trader

Ko Hmat Kyi, 46, is a small business owner in Tetma village, located in the Dry Zone of Myanmar. He supports his family through his palm tree and vegetable plantations. To make enough jaggery for trading, he has to climb 30 tall palm trees twice a day using a basic ladder made from two tall bamboos.

The sugary sap is collected using a number of small earthen jars. After that, the liquid is mixed into a large pot, boiled and stirred until it thickens to a paste. The worker would then knead the product into small chunks which hardens after being cooled. Inside the rudimentary kitchen where the jaggery is prepared, the air is hot, dense and sweet.

In the past, Ko Hmat Kyi had no choice but to send his eldest son to fetch water in the day as his time was fully occupied with his jaggery business. To get clean water, his son often had to travel to a neighbouring village and queue for two to three hours to wait for his turn at the tube well or hand pump. This also meant that on days when he went to collect water, he would have to miss school.

Ko Hmat Kyi and his family

Things got better for Ko Hmat Kyi’s family in 2016. In partnership with Myanmar Engineering Society (MES), Lien AID completed a pilot project in Myanmar, enabling villagers in Tetma village to gain better access to clean water via a solar-powered, gravity-fed water distribution system.

Ko Hmat Kyi told us that better access to clean water has not only made life more convenient for his family, but it also led to an improvement in the school grades of his eldest son. He was able to pass his university entrance exams and now studies at a university in the city of Yangon.

Read more about our pilot project in Myanmar here.

Office workers get transported to Cambodia via immersive 360° VR to experience life without clean water

Lien AID’s inaugural “Windows of Hope” roving VR exhibition helps staff of Expedia and other companies understand the region’s water challenges & development work

The Singapore NGO seeks the support of private sector organisations to bring clean water to Asia’s rural poor in Cambodia, Myanmar & China

Imagine having to collect rainwater every day, and spending at least 30 minutes treating it before you can even take a sip. More than 200 million people in Asia still lack access to clean water and sanitation, putting them at risk of early death, disease and entrenched poverty.

Children playing in flooded rice fields, Preaek Chrey commune, Cambodia. Ms. Sokha Sinoeun, principal of Preaek Chrey elementary school estimates that on average 5 students miss classes each month due to fever and diarrhoea.

With such a compelling need, Singapore non-government organisation (NGO) Lien AID has launched “Windows of Hope” – a virtual reality (VR) experience and roving exhibition on Asia’s need for clean water. Lien AID is bringing this immersive event right into the offices of companies and organisations in Singapore to give employees a unique chance to journey into Cambodia and Myanmar vicariously, and discover for themselves what life without clean water is like. Through the VR video and physical installations, they will learn about the impact of the region’s water challenges and how Lien AID works with local governments, rural communities and corporate supporters to offer relief and sustainable water access. 

Deeper understanding of water challenges

Mr Koh Lian Hock, CEO of Lien AID said, “The best way for people to understand the devastating impact of widespread water challenges on rural communities is to travel there and see for themselves. However, not everyone is able to do this. But we can bring the experience to him or her through this immersive 360˚ experience. With this exhibition, we hope to bring people closer to our cause, and educate them on the urgent need for clean water in countries like Cambodia and Myanmar, and what they can do to make a difference.” Lien AID is seeking the support of corporates to adopt its water cause as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, so there can be greater and more sustainable water access in rural communities across Asia.

Through the “Windows of Hope” VR exhibition, Lien AID hopes to raise $300,000 to help ten Myanmar villages improve their water supply and gain access to proper sanitation in schools and health centres.

A woman climbs down a rudimentary river quay made of bamboo, Kakayo village, Myanmar. Two hours away from the nearest town, Kakayo village has few amenities and villagers have to travel to the neighbouring village for health services.

Since November this year, the Windows of Hope VR exhibition has travelled to the offices of Credit Suisse and Allen & Gledhill, as well as to Expedia. In 2018, Lien AID will be bringing the roving exhibition to more offices, such as design and engineering consultancies AECOM and Arup.

Employees have gained greater awareness

Lien AID is the first water NGO in Singapore to tap on the power of VR and 360˚ video to bring urban executives and professionals closer to the heart of the water issue. Initial responses to the exhibition have been positive. Close to 50 Credit Suisse employees took part in Windows of Hope. Ms Laetitia Lienart, Vice President, APAC Corporate Citizenship, Credit Suisse said, “At Credit Suisse, employees are encouraged to support local communities by donating their time and skills to initiatives and projects run by partner non-for-profit organisations. We were very pleased to host Lien AID’s exhibition, which gave employees a unique opportunity to learn about water challenges in rural Asia through immersive technology.” She added, “We organise various charity events throughout the year to raise awareness of our staff about key social and environmental issues in Asia. We also provide financial grants to not-for-profit partners which provide underprivileged children and youth with access to quality education.”

Employees from Credit Suisse at the Windows of Hope exhibition.

Over 100 employees from the law firm, Allen & Gledhill, got a virtual taste of Cambodia’s water challenges. Mr Chan Hian Young, Partner at Allen & Gledhill, who helms the Pro Bono Programme at the firm on a full-time basis, says, “Lien AID has used a very interactive medium to engage us with sights and sounds to enhance our experience at the exhibition. This has given us a clearer picture of the situation in the rural villages. We saw that a lot of help is needed for these communities to access clean water and sanitation”. Allen & Gledhill, has been assisting Lien AID in setting up its project office in Myanmar.

An employee at Allen & Gledhill views the 360 video.

Expedia Singapore also played host to the exhibition on 1 December, where employees had a chance to explore the issue.  Mr Jason Chuei, CSR lead at Expedia Asia Pacific said, “Under our global ‘Expedia Cares’ CSR programme, clean water and sanitation is one of our focuses in the region and for Singapore. The challenge for clean water is a key developmental need for many of Asia’s rural poor. It is also an issue close to Singapore. As a global travel and technology company, it is important to cultivate and encourage our employees to support community outreach programmes through volunteering efforts. It is rewarding to see the Expedia Cares programme providing a platform for our employees to achieve that through multiple initiatives that matter to our country and community.”

Cambodian ‘Waterpreneur’ & Lien AID at work

The VR video was shot in Preaek Chrey Village, Kandal Province in Cambodia. The villagers in the often-flooded rural area mostly rely on dirty river water or rainwater for drinking, cooking and washing. It is estimated that prior to Lien AID’s intervention, the villagers spent on average 25 to 40 minutes preparing water (collecting, filtering, boiling, etc.) before drinking it.

A woman scooping water from a rainwater harvesting jar, Cambodia. The earthen jars used to collect rainwater are not cleaned regularly and often contaminated with animal droppings and other pollutants.

The Community Water Enterprise (CWE) set up by Lien AID in Preaek Chrey village covers two of seven villages in Preaek Chrey commune. The main sources of drinking water for villagers prior to the implementation of the CWE programme are river water and rainwater. The other alternative source would be imported bottled water sold by a private company in Vietnam, which costs up to 3,000 Riel/bottle (USD 0.75). The CWE programme, Lien AID’s intervention, has enabled an estimated 3,624 villagers from 929 households and 2 villages to gain better and more affordable access to clean drinking water. Under the CWE programme, a water treatment and bottling plant is built in the commune. ‘Water entrepreneurs’ are selected from the local villages through a rigorous evaluation process. Water management committees comprising selected local government officials are also formed to regulate the provision of water services. Like the entrepreneurs, they are trained to operate and maintain water treatment and bottling plants, as well as taught basic business skills and how to manage water services.

In the decade since its inception, Lien AID has enabled clean water and sanitation access for more than 900,000 rural poor in Asia, across 6 countries (Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, China) in more than 2,800 villages, 270 schools and 50 healthcare centres.

Access to clean water has the power to transform lives. For every dollar invested in water, sanitation and hygiene, the World Health Organisation and United Nations Water Agency estimate that more than four times the benefits are delivered through savings in healthcare costs. Convenient water supply and sanitation services are also estimated to provide time-savings of 20 billion working days per year as well as an additional 320 million productive days gained due to improved health.[1]

Host the Windows of Hope exhibition in your office

Companies which would like to offer their employees a unique opportunity to experience immersive 360˚ technology and play a part in bringing clean water to rural communities in Asia can contact for the roving exhibition to visit their offices.


Burnt, but not broken

Tiantaishan Village, Guizhou Province

Ran Fangqing, 46

Ran Fangqing, 46, lives in a small village deep in the mountains of Guizhou province, China. A fire during his childhood left him partially blind in one eye and half of his face covered in a complex network of scar tissue.

The fire, however, was just the beginning of a string of unfortunate events. Fangqing eventually got married, only to have his wife depart soon after the birth of his only son, leaving him to juggle the roles of both a father and a mother.

Beyond parenting duties, as the only abled-bodied person and sole bread-winner of the household, Fangqing also had to travel daily along treacherous mountain trails to fetch water, cook, wash, provide and care for his aging mother and infant son.

Ran Fangqing’s mother inside their home

Life only got more difficult when his elderly mother became senile. She started to panic whenever Fangqing left the house, and refused to eat whenever he was not around.

As her conditions deteriorated, Fangqing was unable to even leave the house to fetch water. With few other alternative water sources, the family had to sometimes resort to drinking from muddy puddles and ditches.

When we visited, his mother was already incoherent in her speech. The elderly woman had lost all her teeth and her movements appeared to be laboured. She used a pair of bamboo sticks as makeshift crutches to move around the small house. The only coherent words that she uttered when we were there were strange and somewhat morbid – “I do not want to be buried in these clothes”, she said.

For years, Fangqing struggled to fulfill the family’s most basic needs – food and water. A heavy burden was lifted off his shoulders when Lien AID’s Village Water Management programme brought clean water from a mountain spring directly to his home. On the day we visited, he was just about to cook lunch. He washed and prepared the food while keeping a close eye on his mother.

Fangqing washing vegetables using clean piped water right in his home.

Fangqing preparing a meal in the kitchen as his mother wanders about the house using her makeshift crutches.

Having clean water piped directly to his house has not only made life more convenient, but it has also improved the quality of life for Fangqing and his small family. Soon after he gained affordable and convenient access to clean piped water, Fangqing started raising chickens and fish to earn more income. He now maintains a small chicken coop as well as several fishponds in the vicinity of his home.

“In the past, we did not even have enough water to drink. Now, life has gotten better. I have enough water to rear chickens and fish.” Almost all of the extra income that Fangqing earns now goes towards supporting his only son, who will soon graduate from high school in a nearby town.

Fangqing’s chicken coop

Fangqing’s home – the chicken coop is on the right while his fish pond is visible in the background.

Although life is still far from easy, but Fangqing remains hopeful about the future. “My biggest wish is that my son can continue his studies in university.” He told us. “I want him to have a promising future, and lead a better life than I ever did.”

The water storage tank, from which water is now directly piped to the village homes.

This project in Tiantaishan village, Guizhou province, implemented under the Village Water Management programme in China, was co-funded by CITIC Envirotech.

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He Would Have Been 7 This Year

Thai Thorn was a special boy.

Despite being born in the floating village of Deyroneath with difficult living conditions, Thai Thorn was a happy child, who found delight in little things like his toy gun and car. Thai Thorn’s mother described him as a bright child. He was adorable. He was playful. He was talkative.

He was also mature for a three-year old. At lunch time, he would scan the lake for his father. When he spotted his father’s boat, he would call out to him to come home for lunch.

For generations, families in the floating village have been drinking from the lake that they defecate in. Thai Thorn, like most children in the village, suffered from poor health, typhoid and chronic diarrhoea.

Children in the village often drink from and play in the same lake that they defecate in

When Thai Thorn was three, he had fever and diarrhoea again. Having experienced this situation countless times before, the family gave him the usual medication they used for their other children.

But this time round, the medication did not work and the fever persisted for four days. On the fifth day, they got hold of a nurse and the suspected diagnosis was dengue fever.  Thai Thorn was given an injection and put on drip.

But it was too late. Two hours later, he stopped breathing.

Thai Thorn’s mother, Pong, sits facing the corner where he took his last breath.

With no money and land nearby for a proper burial in the wet season, the family wrapped the boy’s body in cloth and hung it on a tree. When the dry season came and parts of the lake dried up, they took the remains down and buried him.

Pong was devastated over losing her youngest child and cried for a month. It took her 3 years to get over his death.

“I always think about him when we sit down to eat together. Sometimes it still makes me cry. He would have been seven this year,” she says softly.

While the exact cause of Thai Thorn’s death may never be known, the lack of clean water had played a part in his frequent diarrhoea and poor health.

After his death, the family grew increasingly concerned over the health of their other children.  It was unthinkable if the same tragedy happened to their youngest daughter, Thai Heav.

Thai Heav, 11, drinks clean water from the CWE treatment plant.

When Community Water Enterprise (CWE) came to the village, the family was finally able to afford clean drinking water. Today, the family also practices better hygiene habits, and monitor the health of their children more closely. Diarrhea and fever are no longer usual occurrences among Thai Thorn’s siblings.

This project in Meteuk Commune implemented under the Community Water Enterprise programme in Cambodia, was supported with co-funding from Sabana REIT.

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The Tears Fall, But My Mind is Strong

By the time our boat arrived at Kakayo village, located in the south part of the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, a small crowd had gathered at the wooden jetty. A tall, slender woman stood out from the crowd. Greeting me with a firm handshake, she introduced herself as Daw Mu Mu, a member of the village development committee.

Daw Mu Mu standing at the edge of the construction site for the new rainwater collection pond.

It soon became apparent that Daw Mu Mu was a well-respected figure in the village. Carrying with her an indefinable air of grace, she led the way with long strides as we surveyed the construction site for the new rainwater collection pond. Apart from sitting on the village development committee, the 51-year-old woman wears many other hats – she is also a mother, provision shop owner and farmer.

Unwilling to let her only daughter, Myint Zu Aung, accept the fate of an ordinary village girl, Daw Mu Mu’s foresight led her to a neighboring village in 2008, where she worked hard to earn more income so that her daughter could attend school in nearby Labutta city. Her husband stayed behind, working as a fisherman like most of the other men in the village. The couple worked hard to support their child, in the hopes that she will eventually lead a better life than they did.

Then Cyclone Nargis struck. Having never experienced a natural disaster of this scale, Daw Mu Mu rushed back to the village not knowing what to expect. Nothing could have prepared her for the extent of the damage that was done. The cyclone had wiped out most of the village population, leaving behind it a trail of wrecked homes, uprooted trees, dead animals and disfigured human corpses.

Daw Mu Mu’s husband was nowhere to be found. With her husband presumed lost, the only short-lived moment of happiness came when she found her daughter, who had managed to catch a boat ride back to the village after the cyclone. When asked what they had said to each other then, Myint Zu Aung replied,

“We could not speak. We could only hug each other and cry.”

Myint Zu Aung, Daw Mu Mu’s daughter. She is now 20 years old.

Though shackled by grief, Daw Mu Mu did not have the luxury of mourning for her lost loved ones for long. She went back to work and started to rebuilt the village with others, working twice as hard as before, this time singlehandedly supporting her daughter’s school fees. Miraculously, her husband returned unharmed after being missing for 2 years and 4 months. It turns out that his fishing boat got carried away by the current and ended up on the Indian shores.

Myint Zu Aung’s English exercise book.

But the problems kept coming. The village’s only source of relatively clean water was two village ponds, with water levels often dropping dangerously low during the dry season. In 2016, the ponds dried up, and the children in the village started drinking dirty water when their parents were away fishing or farming.

Women collecting water at the existing pond with buckets.

It was not long before the village was hit by a diarrhoea epidemic. Many of those affected were young children. Daw Mu Mu and the other villagers converted the village school into a makeshift health centre to quarantine and care for the patients. Tragically, they could not save a two-year-old boy in time and he passed away.

Daw Mu Mu was devastated and could not bear the thought of losing more family and friends. She was determined to improve living conditions in the village, starting from better access to clean water. Early this year, construction began on the new fenced pond and hand pumps in the village. When completed, the new rainwater collection pond will provide an additional source of clean water for the villagers during the driest months.

The construction site for the new rainwater collection pond.

Daw Mu Mu hopes that villagers will enjoy better health after the new pond and hand pumps have been completed. Like many of the other villagers, her daughter regard her as a role model. When I commented on her strength and resilience, what she said stuck with me throughout the rest of my journey in Myanmar.

“I keep my feelings to myself.”, she said softly. “The tears fall, but my mind is strong.”

This project in Kakayo village, Labutta Township co-funded by Lien AID, is implemented under our pilot clean water projects in the Ayeyarwady region in Myanmar, and expected to be completed in 2017.

The Last Journey Down The Water

Deyroneath Village, Meteuk Commune, Pursat Province

Extract: This story was told by Sou and Tab, villagers in the floating village of Deyroneath. They tell of the tragic loss of their first son, and how life has gotten better since CWE enabled villagers to gain sustainable access to clean water.  

The Tonle Sap lake has long been revered for being one of the world’s most varied and productive ecosystems. As the largest freshwater lake in Asia, it is also home to the floating communities of Cambodia. These floating communities clean, bathe and defecate in the lake that they live on. Most of them are fishermen and depend on the contaminated water for their livelihood.

A girl in the floating village of Deyroneath

Left: A typical houseboat; right: a lady selling drinks and snacks in the floating village.

Tab Savoeuon, 39, lived with her husband and their 7-month-old on in the floating village. Tired from a long day of work, Tab stopped to take a rest on the hammock as her son played inside the dark and narrow houseboat. Her husband was out on a fishing boat.

Tab Savoeuon, 39

When Tab opened her eyes again, her son was missing. Frantic, she and the other villagers searched for him in the murky water.

Finally, at 5am, they found him. His tiny body was motionless, face down on a bed of water hyacinth.

Water hyacinth on the Tonle Sap Lake

Nobody knows for sure how the baby had ended up there. We could only guess that when his mother closed her eyes for just a minute, the baby must have crawled to the edge of the boat. Maybe he was looking at fish and fell into the water. Maybe he too, fell asleep and rolled off the edge of the boat. But it does not matter because he was gone.

Tab’s husband earned a meagre income from fishing, and the family did not even have money for a burial or a proper funeral. They placed their son’s body in an empty barrel, which drifted down the lake with the current. Villagers gathered to send the boy on his last journey down the water.

Tab and her husband, Sou Sok, were devastated after the death of their first son but life moves on. Years later, they went on to have five more children. Life only got more difficult. Sou was out on a fishing boat all day and Tab had to cook, wash, clean and take care of her young children alone in the day. She could barely rest for fear that another one of her young children would fall into the water and drown.

Tab preparing a meal inside the dark and narrow houseboat

With no affordable clean water source, the family of seven used the contaminated surface water for cooking and drinking. The children fell ill often with diarrhoea and fever.

Sok Chovam, 6, the couple’s youngest child

When her children fell sick, Tab could only sleep 1-2 hours  a night. She stayed up to put ice on her children’s swollen stomachs to ease their pain.

“We had to borrow money to buy medicine.  I was so tired and worried. I fell sick too.“ – Tab

Things finally took a turn for the better when Sou Sok, Tab’s husband, became a water entrepreneur. He was determined to make life better for his family and fellow villagers.

Sou Sok, 51, Water Entrepreneur

Sou Sok now earns enough income from being a water entrepreneur, and does not have to go out on the fishing boat anymore. The family moved their houseboat right next to the water treatment plant. Sou Sok can now help to look after his children, so the tragedy that happened 20 years ago will not repeat.

Left: Sok San, 11, playing outside the water treatment plant; right: front view of the CWE water treatment plant

After gaining access to clean water, Sou and Tab’s children have not had serious diarrhoea for the past year. With better health, they do not miss school as frequently as before.

Sok Chovam doing homework on the houseboat

The tragic loss of their first child remains a thorn in their heart, but Sou and Tab are glad that they have more time to look after their children after he became a water entrepreneur.

When asked about his hopes for the future, Sou said, “I want to make life better for my children. I want them to be healthy and finish school.”

This project in Meteuk Commune implemented under the Community Water Enterprise programme in Cambodia, was supported with co-funding from Sabana REIT.