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In August this year Gab started her placement with Live & Learn, Cambodia (www.livelearn.org) – a non-governmental organisation that aims to reduce poverty and advance sustainable development through innovative environmental education and environmental management.

Live & Learn and EWB are working in partnership with the Phat Sanday floating community on the Tonle Sap Lake to design and trial an ecological sanitation latrine system (floating toilets), and to investigate further waste treatment methods such as floating biodigesters*. Phat Sanday community members live and work largely on the lake waters in floating buildings and previously had no options for affordable toilets that work in these challenging conditions.   

Gab is the fourth EWB volunteer at Live & Learn Cambodia with previous volunteers involved in developing floating toilets for the community. The second stage of the project is currently underway and involves developing floating biodigesters to treat human waste and convert it to useful biogas for cooking and solid fertiliser.

Community ownership, and the development of solutions that are both appropriate and sustainable, are two of the principles core to the project.  This is driven by a strong emphasis on community engagement. Gab’s first two months have been active with field visits to consult and work with many of the local communities around the lake, providing her with an ever expanding understanding and insights into the local Khmer people.

Gab was quickly delighted at the friendliness and openness of new staff members working in her team. “Work social trips are referred to as family trips which to me demonstrated the importance of a sense of family”.

Gab also highlights the amazing ingenuity and determination of the local Khmer people, remarking “with Khmer people where there is a will there is a way. Want to move a double bed mattress, but you only have a moto (motorcycle) to carry it around on?… no problem.  Your fan is broken and you only have some candle wax and some other reasonably simple objects to fix it…no problem. I think this innovation and determination will be important to harness when working with the community”.

Gab’s role has involved working with the community to build prototypes of the three biodigester designs that will be tested out in the field.  Currently there is one successful prototype that has been in action for a number of months, and a couple of new prototypes have been installed recently. 

Gab recognises that challenges still lie ahead. “In addition to developing different designs we are also undertaking tests to work out the best ratios for production of biogas. This sounds simple enough, but finding ways to make air tight containers to be able to test biogas production is proving very difficult. Without air tight containers, we have no way of identifying which test produces the most biogas and hence what to recommend to people,” said Gab.

Gab’s work in the field is heavily supported by EWB members in Australia.  A number of the designs implemented in the field were initially developed with strong contributions from project teams based in WA and NSW.

“I really liked having the opportunity to help previous volunteers when I was based in Australia, and it is great to be able to provide the same opportunities to others. Plus it is great to have more people working on the solving the issues we come up against” she said.

To follow Gab’s personal experiences “like” www.facebook.com/gabincambodia

Live & Learn staff members install a floating biodigester on the Tonle Sap lake,

Above: Gab on her commute to work on the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia,

*A biodigester is an oxygen free tank which digests organic matter. It is used to treat human waste on site. When organic material decomposes without oxygen, it produces methane. Biodigesters combust this methane and allow it to be used as gas for cooking.