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Unveiling hope

Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

It took a six-hour drive through rice fields and lush forests, a few 4wd tracks and a boat trip on the Mekong River, for my first chance to witness the impacts of Oxfam’s work in Kratie Province, rural Cambodia. We went there to get stories and photos about change.

The first village we visited was on an island in the Mekong River. The village is comprised of mainly thatched one-room houses, with no mains electricity or water — and with farm animals roaming around. I conducted the first interview, with my workmate Vut interpreting. Chit Boll talked about the impact of Oxfam’s water filter on his family’s life. As far as bang for your buck goes, a water filter is sensational, as Chit Boll explains;

“The water filter reduced diarrhea in my family. We no longer need to boil water, which reduces need for firewood. The filter saves time because before I spent a lot of time to collect the water from the river and boil it. Now I also have water for kids to take to school. The water filter project benefited my family. My kids go to school more and it reduced family expenses in relation to buying medicine and firewood. My kids have better health than before.”

Interviewing through translation is tricky and while the interview went well, it didn’t quite have the free-flowing conversation we would like. As Vut and I walked along the dusty road to our next interview, we had a chat about processes for good interviewing. We decided that Vut would do the next interviews. It was a great move that allowed the interviews to be more free-flowing, flexible and more personal. This freed me up to focus on photography and perfect some Khmer; “Sohm Nyor Nyeum Thom” (big smiles please…)

Asking people about their hopes for the future is difficult; the concept of ‘future’ is fairly abstract when your daily focus is often on securing enough food for the family. The answers we did get, focused on hopes for children and the family, such as children going to high school, but nobody just focused on themselves.

When I think of hope, a million things spring to mind; winning the footy tipping, creating social change and catching up with my family/friends. I also think I can often turn my hopes into reality (probably not the tipping this year). We all experience hope — and I would be interested to know about our readers hopes and what you think about the importance of hope?

A water filter can provide clear, tangible benefits, but the building of hope and the ability to achieve those hopes is one powerful impact of good development. The alternative — well, what is life without hope? It’s early days here, but I’m happy to start with that as one impression of how good development works.