Clean Water Initiative
Bacterial/protozoal diarrhea and typhoid fever from drinking unclean water are leading causes of death in Cambodian village children. We have continually sought ways to provide clean water for students and village families.
Biosand water filters (2007-present)
When our school was completed in 2007, we funded purchase of Hagar biosand water filters for all five classrooms at a cost of $300 per water filt
Most village families, we found, were attempting to purify water used for drinking by boiling it first over a wood fire. This method encouraged deforestation as well as hazardous particle inhalation from wood smoke.
Testing of village water sources (2012)
In 2012, we had the non-profit RDIC test the two common sources of village drinking water, a pond and a tube well, to determine whether each source was safe to drink untreated.
RDIC's testing of those two sources revealed high levels of chloride, manganese, iron, sulfate, as well as unacceptably high conductivity levels indicating high amounts of dissolved mineral salts and high turbidity, indicating unacceptable levels of bacteria present in the sample tested.
Click here to see RDIC's results.
Water Collection systems
We chose then to create a water collection system to capture rainwater before it entered the ground water system and came contaminated by mineral salts, metal elements, and bacteria present in the soil.
We funded the addition of roof gutters to our original classroom building which connect to concrete collection tanks that perform a two-fold function:
- collect water of a higher purity than village drinking water sources
- provide a contamination-resistant source of relatively pure water for use during the dry season
In 2015, at a staff meeting with us, our principal Mey Cheoun proposed an expansion of the water collection system, based on a design he drew, to include the three new classrooms the Cambodian government had funded for our school. The classrooms were built by the government in 2014 as a result of our ranking as a top village school nationally, based on our 9th grade national exam results. As the photo below shows, our principal Mey Cheoun personally helped to construct the system.
Our Deep Water Well--a work in"progress"
Based on long-term experience using Hagar biosand water filters, we had decided to fund a community biosand water filter. We discovered that , Clear Cambodia, an NGO based in Phnom Penh, had taken ownership of Hagar's biosand filters and had developed a community water filter.
We also found that the well-respected multi-national non-profit charity+water chose Clear Cambodia to be the in-country choice to implement clean water solutions funded by charity+water.
Accordingly, three of our board members met with Clear Cambodia's two principles, Mao Savath and Yim Viriya, on January 23, 2017. We explained that we wanted to have Clear Cambodia install their community biosand water filter solution.
Both Mao Savath and Lim Viriya, to our surprise, argued that drilling a deep water well into bedrock to tap a pure water aquifer below was a lower cost solution that would require less maintenance.
We trusted their judgment and told them to proceed with the drilling of a deep water well.
They sub-contracted the drilling to Thuon Bun of TMC Drilling without our knowledge. In early February, TMC Drilling completed drilling of a well to 67 meters.
On the first day after the well's completion the water ran clear from the well, as the photo below shows. On the fourth day, the water turned brown and cloudy. Alarmed, we sent samples to RDIC for testing. RDIC's results showed that the well water contained severe bacterial/coliform contamination as well as unacceptably high levels of mineral salts.
Click here to see RDIC's test results on water from the deep water well. (Note the similarities in contamination to RDIC's 2102 test results of the two village sources that came from ground water: a pond and a shallow tube well).
TMC Drilling, despite numerous requests, never returned to test the water from the well they drilled.
Every U. S. drilling company representative we talked to told us that drilling companies always test water from deep water wells that they drilled to verify that they have successfully tapped into a clean water aquifer below a kind of strata that naturally filters out contaminants.
After discussing results with several drilling company representatives, we realized that contaminated shallow subsurface ground water, full of bacterial contamination and dissolved mineral salts, was leaking via gravity into the previously uncontaminated deep water aquifer. That explains why the water ran clear at first and then, due to this leakage, turned brown from the fourth day onward.
Drilling experts explained that the leakage of contaminated ground water into the deep water aquifer was caused by TMC Drilling's failure to install a casing that would seal off and prevent such ground water leakage. Installing such a casing is a standard practice that drilling companies employ.
On a further note, UNICEF has written a manual in non-technical language called "Understanding Groundwater & Wells in Manual Drilling", to allow village workers with modest reading capability to understand how to drill low-cost manual wells successfully. In it, the manual goes into great detail explaining the various methods to create a "sanitary seal" around the well hole to prevent this type of contamination. UNICEF recognizes the clear necessity to build a casing or "sanitary seal" around sections of the well hole to prevent ground water from flowing downward into the well hole and polluting the clean water aquifer below bedrock.
When we contacted Clear Cambodia and showed them the test results, they explained that they had experience in drilling deep water wells. Mao Savath wrote that Clear Cambodia had "dug a number of wells" but that "We are not an expert who have experience on well or drilling well but only contracted with hydrologic company like TMC to do it."
Mao Savath also wrote that "I only told you that to have enough water we had to dig a deep well and that, the water under the big rock would be good." He then explained Clear Cambodia could not help us and refused to discuss this problem with TMC Drilling. He wrote instead that should we contact Thuon Bun of TMC Drilling, a man we had never heard of or met.
After a number of email attempts to Thuon Bun, he finally responded to us stating that he did not understand English well enough to reply to our questions about whether he had installed a casing or "sanitary seal".
We then had our letter translated into Khmer and re-submitted it to him. He has never responded.
Each day, contaminated ground water leaks into the deep water aquifer and further pollutes a previously pure source of drinking water. Sadly, neither Clear Cambodia nor TMC Drilling cares to take responsibility for their actions. They are unwilling to take any action to stop the contamination of a previously clean water aquifer in our village.
Through a serendipitous connection, we learned of a non-profit that has been working for years in Guatemalan villages thatt just installed an 'inexpensive' clean water system using reverse osmosis and a UV purification system that was sourced in-country. We're researching that solution now.
If you have suggestions on how this situation can be remedied so we can use the well to provide clean water for the village, please email us at
If you want to help provide a UV and reverse osmosis filtration solution so that village families can finally drink clean water without the need to boil water, please click on the button below.
Note: 100% of all donations will be used to fund projects and programs for village students, alumni, teachers, and families. No funds will ever be used to fund administrative expenses or board member travel and expenses.
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