“Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
That slaves howe’er contented, never know.”
In this world where standards of living continue to improve, still millions of people should be asking if they are truly free. They should be asking if they are imprisoned, in one way or another, by circumstances such as economic poverty.
Volunteering in the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme (AYVP) has provided me the opportunity to widen my horizon–meeting and working with people of different cultures. More so, my immersion with households in the Krakor Floating Village in Cambodia is an experience which will not be forgotten.
We have conducted water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) awareness activities in schools and the commune hall. In line with this, we distributed ceramic filters and hygiene kits to a number of households in Krakor floating village and I would say that the family of Senery and Umao, a couple in their late 20s with four kids, made an impact. They were very happy to see us and appreciate us sharing some topics about WASH such as proper hand washing. However, according to them, they still need to cope as a family in maximizing whatever resources are available to them. For instance, they use the water surrounding their house for washing the dishes. This same water is where their wastes are deposited. At times, when they have extra money, they would collect water from the deeper lake for drinking, bathing and washing utilities.
If they do not have access to or could not afford clean water, they could not practice the knowledge they have gained. To achieve and sustain behavioral change, the community must both be aware of the importance and be able to afford hygiene basics such as clean water, soap, and a towel.
Umao, the head of the family earns about $5 a day. They rely mainly on fishing on a daily basis. However, as fish is becoming scarce, they are worried that there will come a time that their children have no more fish to catch. They spend about $5-7 per day for their basic needs. Knowing that they are spending more than what they are earning is affecting how they plan for their future or the lack thereof because they are akin to day-to-day plans. As much as they want to, they could not prioritize WASH.
We asked them if they are happy and contented with where they are now. They replied that they have no choice but to try to be happy given their circumstances. It was surprising to know that, if given the opportunity, they prefer to live on land. Senery added, “When the kids see land, they run around because they are used to living in a small space.” She could see the longing in her children’s eyes and smile to be free on the land. This is something that I usually take for granted.
This experience made me realize that freedom is the true essence of human development—helping others to develop their capacity and reach their highest potentials. It is about giving people choices, options. As the famous economist and philosopher Amartya Sen said, freedom is both the primary end and principal means of development. Development as freedom.
You may view our group’s WASH Awareness Campaign performance here:
Anjela Mae Era (Jel)
Eco-Leader, 2015 ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme
Twitter: @AnjelaEra | Instagram: @jelato_