Photo: Conducting A Household Survey in Som Roung.
Having graduated with a BSc International Development and Food Policy from University College Cork in 2012, Peter James Downey wanted to use his degree for something good. Here he talks about how he got involved in volunteering.
However finding a job within the development sector in Ireland is difficult. So I turned my attention abroad and found the SCOOP Foundation, based in Dublin, but who have projects in India and Cambodia.
I became the Development Officer for the Cambodian project that is operated by SCAO, a local partner organisation of SCOOP. I am responsible for the day to day running of two schools, organisation of volunteers, finances, and the creation and implementation of community development projects.
I am based in a small village called Som Roung where SCAO run an Education and Community Centre (ECC) that provides free English, computer and hairdressing classes to the area. The village is home to over 450 families, with the main occupations being farmers or construction work (males) and garment factory workers (females). The average family income in the village is $80-$120 a month.
I developed a survey consisting of questions about aspects of domestic life to provide us with an insight to the lives of the families in the village. The survey highlighted three immediate needs of Som Roung; access to clean drinking water, access to a toilet and access to healthcare.
Water filters were therefore our priority; I established the provision of ceramic water filters and the training needed to use them from Phnom Penh. One filter costs $12; families pay $2, with the remaining $10 financed by a SCAO partner organisation in the USA. To date SCAO has provided over 200 water filters in Som Roung, now over 700 people have access to clean safe drinking water. For me, I really saw the benefits of the water filters for the community. One father told us that since they started using the water filter, their youngest daughter has not had diarrhoea and thus is able to attend school more regularly.
I had many ideas of Cambodia, the lifestyle there and found myself unsure what to expect. However dealing with local people is my favourite part of the job. When you ask them ‘How are you?’ in Khmer they get such a surprise, followed by a wide smile. Knowing Khmer is an advantage as the older local people do not speak any English. By learning their language you can earn their trust and respect, and they are more willing to talk. When I walk through the village I am greeted by welcoming smiles and shouts of ‘HELLO’ from the young students.
SCAO are in the process of building an Education and Community Centre in a village just outside Phnom Penh. I am now an integral part of the team behind the implementation of the ECC. This project is just getting off the ground, it is extremely exciting for me to be in this position to take on such a huge project and make a difference.