It was an exceptionally hot day for the wet season. By the time we made it to the only school in Pou Andait village, my shirt was soaked with perspiration. Morning class had just ended. School children poured out of the classrooms and clambered onto over-sized bicycles, legs stretched to reach the foot pedals as they made their way shakily down the dirt road outside the school.
Some stopped and got off their bikes to observe me from a safe distance with squinted eyes. After all, an outsider was a rare sight in this village. However, it was not long before their wary looks were replaced with wide-eyed curiosity. Soon, I found myself surrounded by excited, smiling children eagerly posing for photographs.
Amid the crowd of excited school children, one girl caught my attention. She stood out from the other students with her quiet confidence and calm demeanor. Her eyes had a pensive, brooding and slightly melancholic quality to them. She did not smile, not much anyway.
Inside the principal’s office, I was granted an introduction to this girl. Her name is Chann Mie, and she is 11 years old. This little girl who looks just half her age suffered from poor health her whole life. Yet, she is the top student in her school, her teacher told us.
Chann Mie is a special girl. She is smart, respectful and always willing to help her friends. Her favorite subjects are mathematics and Khmer language. Despite being born into a poor family, she is unwilling to accept the fate of an ordinary girl in Pou Andait village.
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up so I can live a life less difficult than my parents. But last month, I fell sick five times with diarrhea and could not come to school.” – Chann Mie.
After school, Chann Mie goes home to help her parents. On a typical day, she has to finish her homework, babysit her younger sister, help her parents in the rice fields, hand wash dirty clothes and herd the goats back home. If she finishes all her chores early, she gets to skip rope with her friends.
She cannot do any of that when she is sick.
Like many other students in her school, Chann Mie brings water from home – usually rainwater or river water. Sometimes her parents do not have time to boil the water, and the whole family gets diarrhea.
But things are changing for the better.
Today, under the Community Water Enterprise (CWE) programme in Kanchor Commune, Chann Mie’s school can obtain a number of free 20-litre bottles of clean water daily. Since the completion of this CWE project in October last year, we have been continuing our efforts to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this project. The fight for clean water is a continuous uphill battle with numerous challenges, but we are hopeful for a future where Chann Mie and her schoolmates will enjoy better health through improved access to clean water.
Join us now to work together towards a common vision of better water governance and a future where sustainable clean water access is available to everyone. You can also learn more about our work in Cambodia here.