Trail Blazers



By no means everyone in Cambodia has access to clean water, and this has a massive impact on families and the community.  Water-borne illnesses are a huge threat and children often get ill and can’t attend school and parents can’t work because they’re looking after them, or the parents themselves get ill and can’t work, which has an economic impact on the family.

At school we have two bio-sand filters which provide the drinking water for the children.  They were installed by an organisation called Trailblazers, and two other volunteers I’ve met are working there at the moment, turning up every day for work in tough leather boots and spending the day humping concrete around and using pneumatic drills, so I asked them about what they do.

The filters are made of a moulded concrete casing which is made first at Trailblazers HQ and transported to the site where the filter will be installed.  Then the filter is put together on site.  They fill it with big stones, then small stones, then sand, and put a perforated cover on top to stop the sand from rising up when the water is added.


The gravel and sand act as a physical filter, but the bacteria in the sand also act as a bio-filter and remove bacteria and viruses and make the water safe to drink … and all for only $60.

I thought this building of filters was the only thing that the volunteers do, but apparently if there is no well in place for the filter, they have to make the well too – and the one they made on Wednesday took seven hours to drill.  The thought of two 21 year-old graduates spending seven hours with a pneumatic drill is quite alarming, but they didn’t seem to be maimed or disfigured in any way.  They have to sink 16 copper tubes on top of each other in the ground – each tube is 1.5 metres high, so that’s a pretty deep hole.  Then they remove the tubes and put a plastic pipe in and build a pump to access the clean well water.


This is our school pump, which runs to a tap on the wall, which is used to fill large plastic cans to pour into the filter.


The well water is poured into the filter and drips out slowly – apparently there is a copper pipe which forces the water out from the bottom of the casing. The only thing to remember is not to let the sand dry out, because then you kill all the good bacteria.


The pump at school is also used to fill this large barrel with water.


This water is used to flush the loo and for the all-important bum gun.

Each well provides enough water for 3-5 families, and one filter per family gives plenty of water.

Trailblazers gives the family information on the importance of clean water and hygiene.  This is also much-needed, as we learnt when we visited the floating villages on lake Tonle Sap, where the loos all empty directly into the lake, and the villagers drink the water.  They boil it first, but even so they often get ill.  A charity provided them with small water purifiers, but they were suspicious of them and prefer the traditional method of boiling the lake water.

We all know about the importance of clean water for health, and worry about getting a dose of Montezuma’s revenge on holiday, but I’d never before considered the long term financial and educational problems for people who are permanently beleagured by water-borne diseases.