Isle pays a visit to Cambodian sanitation enterprise

Isle pays a visit to Cambodian sanitation enterprise

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Through its REEF charitable ‘foundation’, Isle Utilities supports entrepreneurs working in water and sanitation in developing and emerging countries. Just before Christmas 2019, Natasha Giroux, a graduate in our London office, joined an international team from Isle for a trip to a toilet-building enterprise in Cambodia – and took part in the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. Here is her account.

Just as London was making its way into a frosty December, a small group from Isle were preparing for a whistle-stop tour of sunny Cambodia. Tom Gibson from our Australian office and his fiancé Rachael Noble, as well as Yang Villa from the Philippines, were unlikely to be as grateful for the change of climate as were our chairman Piers Clark, his son Angus, and Naiara Fonseca and myself from the UK office. The purpose of the trip was to find out about the work of WaterSHED Ventures, a social enterprise supported by Isle’s REEF project, and to participate in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon.

After arriving in Phnom Penh on Wednesday 4th, the team got a good night’s sleep despite drama in the corridor from a midnight robbery of the room opposite. On Thursday morning a small group shadowed Piers to his meetings with the water utility in Phnom Penh and WaterSHED, enjoying a breakfast of exhaust fumes as we whizzed around the city in our Tuk Tuk. The Highway Code of Cambodia: go, and hope all other drivers and pedestrians stop in your wake.

Friday was our opportunity to learn about the work of WaterSHED Ventures. Although Cambodia’s cities have impressive water and wastewater infrastructure, their rural communities often resort to open defecation. Families save up to build themselves brick toilet huts, often without the construction expertise or understanding of how much material and time they will need to finish the project. WaterSHED Ventures have worked with these communities to design a bathroom-hut called the Paradise Shelter, costing around $500 which can be paid upfront or in installments. These shelters contain a toilet and a wash basin which lead to a septic tank and are considerably quicker to install than the brick alternative.

After an early-morning scrabble with the traffic to get out of Phnom Penh, we arrived at the rural dwelling of one Cambodian family who were in the process of having their Paradise Shelter built. Reliability of construction workers is a challenge for WaterSHED who are considering designing an apprenticeship-like scheme to encourage young men to work for them with a promise of a more stable future.

The afternoon was spent at the Paradise Shelter factory where we learnt more about the construction process and got our hands dirty with painting one of the shelters. Watching seven westerners take turns to paint a 2.5 m by 2.5 m hut was no doubt amusing to the men who spend six days a week in the factory building the Paradise Shelters. Then followed an evening of classy rooftop ukulele singing, followed by significantly less classy karaoke singing.

By Saturday night, not all of us were feeling 100% and the early morning race on Sunday was a daunting prospect. Despite this, everyone made it to the finish line and Piers, Angus and Naiara bravely decided to run the half marathon, despite training for the 10k. Yang ran a terrific 5k and Tom and I were on the 10k route. Running past the temples of Angkor Wat was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are all so grateful for the experience.

The trip was a whirlwind adventure, with lots of learning and laughs. It was also a wonderful opportunity to get to know new members of the global Isle family which becomes evermore important as we expand to around 90 people this financial year. A huge thank you from the group to Piers for inviting us on this trip and to WaterSHED for hosting such an interesting tour of their work!