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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brook's visit to new wells in the countryside


When I decided to donate a well during my stay at the Journeys Within B&B earlier this month, I asked John if I could visit the site of my future well. He said he could do one better: I could spend a morning visiting new wells with the scholarship students who oversaw the project.

Seven university students showed up at the B&B early on Sunday morning. All have received a full scholarship from JWOC, and in return donate five hours per week to the well project. Kimpouv Nou, a slight 21-year-old, sat down next to me and told me about herself. She lives inPuok district, 16 kilometers from Siem Reap. Her father died 10 years ago, so of course it was even harder than usual for Kimpouv's mother to support her nine children. Kimpouv was the only child to enroll in university, where her friend Se told her about the Dollars for Scholars program. Not wanting to burden her mother further, but also not earning enough from her teaching position at the local high school to pay for college tuition, Kimpouv applied for the scholarship a few months ago. Now she devotes her only free day(Sunday) to the well program.

Once the students had all arrived at the B&B, I jumped on theback of Kimpouv's motorbike and we headed out into the countryside. You see donated wells along many of the tourist routes, but JWOC's locations are far from any idle visitor's path. We drove for 45 minutes over bumpy dirt roads, passing a man with one son on the back of his bicycle and another in the basket, a game of pickup volleyball, and shrubs stained ochre with dust.

At the first well, which had just been dug earlier that week, John showed the students how to test the water for e. coli and coliform. This, I believe, is one of the most important aspects of JWOC's programs, letting the Cambodians take charge. Progress was slow at first, but by the fifth or sixth well, the students had naturally taken on an efficient rhythm: Some would squat down to squeeze a few milliliters of water into a sample vial, others could record the GPS coordinates of the site, and the rest would gather the local families for a photo that would be sent to the individuals who had donated the well.

Toward the end of the morning, we took a detour to the site where the well I'd donated would soon be installed. I played with a five-month-old girl who lived there. They say that in Cambodia, one in five children doesn't make it to his or her fifth birthday. With the help of my well, this little cherub would have much better odds. The cost of the well:$100. The smile on her face: priceless.

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