Bopha School Water Project
Updated: Apr 13
Travel to Siem Reap and you’ll find a thriving, ever expanding, tourist town. Pub Street blares out thumping music.
The night sky is lit with fluorescent lights.
The thick, humid air is dense with shouting voices and tut-tut horns. It’s fragranced by cuisine from every corner of the world.
Money is flowing. Dollars are gushing. Bigger, swankier buildings are popping up. The rich are getting richer - - - and yet, Siem Reap as a province, remains the poorest in Cambodia.
The money generated by the hoards of people coming to visit Angkor Wat, does not filter down to the poorest people in the township, let alone into the communities that live in the rural areas further away from the town.
Very quickly, once you set off outside of the town, the countryside becomes quiet and docile.
Follow the road north, past palms and rice paddies and - if you know the way - you’ll eventually come to our first Bopha Primary School. This white washed building is found down a dusty road, hemmed by endless tapioca fields and dotted with patches of jungle.
It feels remote.
But not as remote as where we were Heading on this particular project.
The second Bopha school, (what I refer to as our Jungle School), is only another 15km from the first school, however this one is down a pot holed track that leads deeper and deeper into the jungle.
This second school, literally “off the beaten track”, doesn’t show up on Google Maps.
In terms of modern online living, it doesn’t even exist.
“If anything happens whilst we’re out here, no one knows where we are,” laughed Phea as we bumped and trundled deeper into the forest.
“Good,” I laughed back, pulling a face.
The last time - and the first time - I‘d visited the Jungle School in March 2022, it consisted of two wooden classrooms. There was a well / water source of sorts, but due to being only 30ft deep it would dry up during dry season And during the rainy season, while the local community could draw water, the purity was inconsistent and so a very real health risk.
On that first visit we told the teacher that when we came back we’d dig a proper 90ft deep well, build toilets, add a water tower, solar panels to power the well pulley system and water purification systems to make sure the well water was clean.
What we didn’t know was that the school had put in a request to the government four years ago for the well to be improved and deepened. They’d also put in a request for proper toilets. Until we showed up, nothing had happened … and yet, once we’d assured the teachers we’d be back, suddenly the government appeared and dug out the well.
Then, one week before we were due to come to Cambodia, Phea visited the school and saw that the government had JUST provided the toilets. This was great. But also a nightmare as we had already purchased the materials for our toilet and couldn’t get it refunded. To overcome this, we had the toilet brought out the school to be stored there until next month - April/May - when we will be able to deliver it to the next Bopha School 40-50KM away.
In the meantime, there was still a list of things at the Jungle School that We were able to do in terms of sorting out the water.
This is what we did:
1. Prior to our visit, our Bopha building team purchased and installed solar panels next to the new government well.
2. We then purchased and installed an electronic pulley system, powered by the solar panels, allowing the water to be drawn from the well and into a large water container on the tower.
3. Then during our visit we added a triple filter purification system.
This would draw the water through three different water filters, allowing a sufficient purification to make the water risk and drinkable. In fact, by the time we left the jungle, we were all drinking the “Bopha Well Water”. It was a pretty magical moment.
4. This water system allowed us to then add pipes to take clean water to the government toilets for hand washing.
5. Finally, we left the school with a two year supply of filters:
A) 2 sets of filters that would last six months each
B) A second set of filters that needed to be changed one a year
At our arrival in the Jungle School, a group of villagers had come up to hover around and watch us. There were lots of women and their little children, as well as a cluster of men. The men came forward to speak to us via Phea. We discovered that the oldest guy was the the chief of the village.
“He come to say thank you for what you are doing,” Phea translated to us. “He say that water is life for the people in his village. They can not thank you enough for bringing health and life to this community. He say, they can not offer you anything, because they have nothing, but what they can offer is these two police men and these two guards. They will stay with you for the whole time you are camping here and will protect you camp.”
You know what?
I don’t think we needed any protection in that village - even if the place didn’t show up on Google Maps and as Phea put it, “if anything happens, no one knows where we are.”
The community who orbited that little school in the jungle were some of the warmest, most humble, happy and friendly human beings I’ve met. They came and joined us at night after we’d eaten out food to drink some beers, listen to music, dance and sing under the jungle trees and the big Bopha moon.
Comradeship, connection and peace.
Such a far cry from the craziness of Siem Reap, the tourist town.
There’s loads that will help this school.
Whilst sitting with the teachers and the people from the village, I discussed with them what would make the biggest difference to the education of the children there. They said that the biggest difference would be made by:
a) A concrete floor. At the moment all they have is two wooden classrooms and an outside classroom. During wet season the school floods or is muddy and impacts learning and lessons.
B) A large enough concrete floor/footprint that will allow the school classrooms to expand. Right now they are already a classroom short. Next year there will be another year group of children to accommodate, so more space is needed.
C) Wooden clad classrooms With some fans as the heat gets intense for the teachers and pupils.
d) A library with books. Books and language are what allow education to happen.
My impressions of the kids at this school are that they are bloody bright and the teaching crew are SO So So engaged. They stay behind to help the children who are flagging and don’t get paid for it. The level these kids were at was clear during the education sessions we deliVered. They deserve everything.
My hope is that Bopha School can raise enough money to provide the school with what it needs to thrive. In terms of water, we will continue to maintain the water systems at the Jungle School over the next five years - and for as long as we can.