Klem left school at Grade 2. Her family live in a remote village in the north-east of Cambodia; she was needed at home to look after her younger siblings and help with running the house. Even when she was still in school, Klem often missed classes because she was collecting water or helping with the family farm.
Now 19 years old, Klem says that ever since then a large part of her time has still been spent collecting water from her family. Three or four times a day she walks 1.5km to a mountain stream where she fills 10-15 bottles with water and carries them back in a basket on her back.
“Each day I spend a couple of hours collecting water,” says Klem. “Sometimes it takes even longer if we have to wait at the stream, because many people from our village collect water there. In wet season the journey is hard and takes a long time; I often slip and get dirty. It is very hard work but we have no choice – if we don’t get water there is nothing for us to drink.”
Klem does not enjoy having to make this journey many times each day and not just because of the time it takes. She is also worried about travelling at night and the danger of men on the journey, especially if her younger sisters are helping her. “If we are still at the stream after dark we wait for others so we can travel back in a big group,” she says.
This all changed when CARE provided a stone water jar for her family before the rainy season this year. These large containers can hold many gallons of water and during monsoon downpours they can quickly fill with rainwater. This may seem like a small and simple addition to Klem’s household but it had a big impact on her life.
“When the jar was full, we had enough water to use for cooking, cleaning and drinking for five days,” she explains.”I did not have to go to the stream during that time and was able to relax for a few days.” As Klem started collecting water for the family when she was very young, she says it is very rare that she is able to do this. “The break made me feel very happy and refreshed,” she says with a smile.
The water jar has helped to ease Klem’s workload whenever it rains and CARE hopes to continue to improve water availability in her village by building a community pond much closer than the mountain stream she has been walking to each day. Klem is positive about the impact this will have, not just on her life but for other young girls in the community.
“I hope that more children in my community will study more and not drop out if they have to spend less time collecting water,” says Klem whose two youngest sisters aged eight and nine are still in school. “I want my sisters’ lives to be different to mine and I hope they can learn to a higher level than I was able to.
“Men do not collect water and wood; men do not clean the house. I want more balance in my community between the sexes,” she concludes. “The water jars are a first step in helping to improve women’s household work. I hope that more will follow.”
These activities are part of the WASH in Schools and Communities project, which is funded by the Australian Government.