By: Nancy Pierce
January 19, 2011
Sokha and Ny Mao are a couple on a charitable journey. As maintainers for Housing and Residence life at the University of Massachusetts Sokha and Ny left with friends on Jan. 5 for Cambodia in hopes of seeing the progress of a project they were compelled to start back in 2003.
According to Mary Sayer, long-time-friend and once a co-worker to the Maos, Sokha and Ny Mao fled from Cambodia to the United States as refugees in 1981 as a result of the mass genocide under the Pol Pot regime. In 2003, the couple, now residing in Amherst, returned to their homeland. Sayer said they were appalled by their former home’s horrid conditions and were inspired to take action. With the help of Sayer and neighbors Ruth Hazzard and Claude Pelletier, the Maos formed the Cambodia Water Project.
This project raised almost $10,000 for the purchase of over 100 toilets and the construction of ponds and wells. Some of the areas the project is involved with are Omani, Onk, Pursat, Kaodak, Prey Totand and Troh Pan Chann.
Sayer, a member on the Board of the Cambodia Water Project, was moved to join these efforts.
“I started out because I knew Ny and Sokha, and the more I read about [the project], it became something I really wanted to do,” she said.
Sayer befriended the Maos while working with them 19 years ago at the Common School on South Pleasant St. in Amherst.
She said, since the mass genocide, which wiped out a quarter of the population, a lot of the villages were destroyed and as a result, a lot of the people fled Cambodia.
“People with skills were either refugees or killed, so there was very little expertise on rebuilding,” she said.
Because of the devastation in Cambodia, Sayer wanted to give back.
She explained that she, along with the rest of the board, communicates with monks in the villages to identify what the people need. The board then figures a budget from the money they raised that year to map out a plan. Sayer emphasized they encourage substantial input from the people of Cambodia in need. Not only are the native villagers working on the projects as volunteers, but they also have a very active role in requesting what their community needs. “We don’t feel it’s up to us to tell them how to do the project,” said Sayer.
Sayer said the objective for the trip that many of the members are currently on is to collaborate with the monks and elders in each village to see how the existing projects are progressing. Specifically, they are checking on how the wells are holding up, as well as making contacts in attempt to integrate water filters for schools, temples, and eventually, individual homes. According to Sayer, polluted streams make water filters a necessity.
Associate Director of Administration at the Peace Development Fund in Amherst Tony Rominske has been working with the Cambodia Water Project since 2005. The Peace Development Fund is a public foundation with a focus on social justice. It manages donations for organizations and projects doing charity work. The Peace Development Fund fiscally sponsors the Cambodia Water Project.
Rominske lauded the Cambodia Water Project as “one of the most effective projects that PDF works with in regards to use of their funds.” He also praised the project’s determination to work on projects appropriate for the village they’re working on.
“They don’t spend any money in the US. All the money goes to villages for such things as wells, water ponds and toilets,” he said.
When asked how the grant process works, Rominske explained how any organization that wants to be approved by Peace Development Fund must be reviewed by its board of directors.
“We really want to support those projects that are working with the community,” he said.
The Cambodia Water Project, approved by Peace Development Fund in 2005, met this criteria.
Nancy Pierce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.