Clean water saves lives: Maree’s story

In the field article written on the 20 Dec 2011

Photo: John Sones/OxfamAUS

It’s easy to get caught up in the material anxieties of the holiday season. For a bit of perspective we bring you the story of Maree, a 23-year-old Cambodian woman living with her mother in the Takeo district of Cambodia. Maree doesn’t own any land, so she travels 90 km to Phnom Penh to work as a house cleaner.

But Maree’s mother is often sick with diarrhoea from dirty water – sometimes two weeks out of every month. When her mother is sick Maree has to stay home from work to care for her, which means no income. Some months she spends nearly half of her wages on medicine to help her mother recover from illness caused by dirty water.

Oxfam offered Maree a water filter, but in an inspiring act of generosity she declined so a larger family with children could get a filter first.

Here’s more of Maree’s story, in her own words.

Maree, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Mao Maree, I live here in Tomadar village. I have four sisters and three of them are married. I live with my mother and I’m single.

What are the main challenges you face in day to day life?

Life is very difficult because I live alone with my mother who is sick and there is a lot of housework.

How did your mother get sick?

She got sick because she didn’t have enough food to eat and we don’t have clean water for drinking.

Why don’t you have clean water for drinking?

I do not stay at home very much, because I need to travel to go to work and earn money. My mum stays alone. She is busy looking after the house. She doesn’t have time to find clean water.

Where do you get water from now?

From the pond.

What do you do with the water? Do you boil it?

Yes, I boil it.

Can you always boil the water?

When I stay at home I boil water for my mum and myself, but when I am away I am not sure if my mum boils water. I don’t know exactly, maybe sometimes she boils it and sometimes she drinks from the pond.

When you boil the water, do you still get sick?

Even after boiling water, she still gets sick and gets diarrhoea some times.

What about you, do you get sick?

I get sick too, but only occasionally.

When your mum is sick, is she able to get an income? What do you do?

When my mum gets sick, I have to go out to get a job and send money back to her. She uses that money to buy food. When she was sick, Oxfam also provided some support to my mum.

So your mum is unable to work when sick?

My mum cannot do any hard work because she has a problem with her back. She can only make mats from palm leaves.

How often is she sick?

She is sick very often, around two times a month.

How long is she sick for?

Normally if she has diarrhoea she will be sick for three to four days. If we have medicine, she can take it to recover. Recently, it took her one week to recover.

How much do you spend on medicine?

In one month I spend around 50,000 Riel in medicine.

How much of your income is that?

When I do really well I can get 100,000 Riel a month, but when I come home I have no job, so I cannot get anything.

Is that money on medicine due to sickness from bad water?

Most of the sickness is from water.

How often are you away from work?

When my mum is not sick I will go to work monthly in Phnom Penh.

What kind of work do you do?

House worker (cleaner).

How do you think a water filter will change your mother’s life?

If my mum had a water filter, it could stop her getting sick from water borne diseases, reduce the time spent collecting fire wood and also reduce time spent boiling water.

How long do you currently spend for finding firewood and boiling water?

I spend half an hour collecting firewood and around 25 minutes boiling water every day.

What would you do for that extra hour per day?

If I had more time, I would work on making mats. It takes two to three days to make a mat. Then I can sell them and get money.

How will that change both your lives – having more money?

If I have more money, I can do renovations on my house and make it much better and have more food for eating.

What is your hope for the future?

I hope I will have a good future and my mother won’t get sick and we have good health.

Want to help Maree and people like her to realize a brighter future? Donate now to support our water and sanitation work in Cambodia and other countries, and make a difference in the lives of others. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season!