This summer I had an opportunity to travel to Cambodia and work with the local NGO, Community First, on developing and building aquaponics systems for the rural community in Siem Reap province. We started as a group of four engineering students who were involved in student-led society, Engineering for Change, and wanted to spend a part of our summer volunteering. Before going, we looked at the current aquaponics designs, came up with the ways how they could be improved, even tried to build one of our own here in Edinburgh. The main reason why we chose aquaponics development is the current situation in Cambodia where average diet in rural areas has led to many of its population suffering from malnutrition and diabetes. Some organisations within the country, such as Community First Initiative (CFI), are working to overcome this problem by developing more efficient and sustainable methods of farming that are completely organic and off-soil.
Before leaving, I was concerned about facing similar challenges to my previous journey to the program I attended in China, where I found out local community had a different understanding of the concept of personal space than mine. Also, travelling to a country where I could only communicate with the minority of population speaking in English. However, Cambodia proved me wrong, local people were very welcoming and understanding while most of the people tried their best to communicate, universal hand gestures and facial expressions helped a lot.
This trip was a lifetime experience that helped me to realise that I am privileged to have such an opportunity and made me reconsider some of my personal values. After meeting people from one of the poorest countries in the world, everyday worries and complaints, such as having no time to have coffee in the morning, became so meaningless in comparison to people’s problems of not being able to let their children attend school because of financial difficulties. In addition to this learning experience, I should not forget all the technical skills that I gained about aquaponic and water purification systems, design skills while making drawings for drainage systems and creating floor plans for the local school. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip and would definitely recommend something similar to everyone who might be questioning our everyday life style in relatively more developed countries.