Khiri REACH: Sustainable Community Initiatives
I recently joined Khiri Travel and Khiri REACH as their Sustainability Manager and Executive Director. On my first trip to Myanmar, I went to discover and research some of the innovative excursions and community reach projects that have been implemented by Khiri Myanmar’s ‘Green Team’ and management.
One of the projects that excited me was the Water Well Initiative, which since its commencement in 2015, has coordinated the building of 18 wells and one rainwater collection and storage facility. These basic yet vital wells, which include a pump and reservoir, provide clean water for entire villages in numerous poverty stricken areas which suffer from 3-4 months of drought every year. After Jack, a Khiri Travel employee, took the team to visit his family home, the water situation in his village was noticed and brought up. As a real solution was needed, the concept of building a well was discussed and everyone immediately agreed it would be a wonderful and much needed investment for the village – and one that they would never be able to afford themselves.
The day trip began with a car ride to Thakaleh, an agricultural trading town a few hours’ drive from the city of Yangon along narrow, potholed roads. Our final destination would be Hteetan, a tiny rural farming community located in the middle of rice and bean fields, hidden by thick jungle on the Bago River plains. Hteetan is only reachable by longtail boat for most of the year, but especially during the monsoon season. It can also be reached by bicycle from Kawa village when it’s not raining too hard. From practically floating for many months the year it becomes completely arid – without water – in the dry season.
Before the well was built, the locals had to collect water in large and expensive earthenware water jars, which were heavy and difficult to transport to the remote village. They were also unable to store enough water to last for three or four months a year. Many of the affordable solutions that had been implemented by the local people during the rainy season resulted in big pools of water that after months of standing became stagnant, mosquito infested and full of bacteria. Boiling this dirty water also wasted precious fuel and resources. When you have no other option available to you, you end up drinking and using what there is. These unhygienic water collection facilities had to be used sparsely in order to provide for all the people, livestock and irrigation for many months, until the rains came again.
After research and planning, an expert was bought in who had the relevant drilling machinery and a 600ft-deep well was built and paid for through donations and funds allocated by Khiri Travel and local villagers U Nyunt Han and Daw Tin Tin Latt, via Khiri REACH at the cost of US$3,000. But it is not enough to just build a well, it has to be maintained: the pump has to be operated twice a day during collection times and any cracks or leaks in the building need to be repaired and so on. Who would run the project? Who would take care of it and how do you stop someone potentially taking advantage of it? So a ‘water council’ was formed with people of different roles in the village. It was decided that the water council should charge villagers a small 100 kyat fee for four big buckets of water (approx. US$ 0.07 cents). The fees collected could be used to improve systems, repair broken pumps and cover the cost of maintenance, so that people in the community would not have to pay out of their own pockets. As a result, Khiri Travel does not need to keep on finding donations for this project and the precedent can be used to help other villages in desperate need of clean water.
The positive results started showing almost immediately. When everybody is better off with access to clean water, they are all willing and able to give what they can to benefit others. The village’s old water hole is now stocked with fish and night blooming lotuses have been planted to clean the water so that it can be used for livestock and farming, rather than for human consumption. People are no longer getting as sick as they used to, so they don’t need to make the three-hour journey to see the doctor at a cost they couldn’t afford. More importantly, they do not have to spend their money to go and buy water 40 miles away and other villagers in the area are also coming to get water from their well. They now have more time to focus on their crops and the animals they breed, while enjoying better hygiene and so on. It’s like a ripple effect spreading across the water, starting from a single drop.
In the one and a half years since the well was built, the village collected and saved all the fees charged and built on their own initiative, a 50ft extension from the main well. Their new project includes a second pump station so the first pump is not worn out and there’s a backup system. A second water collection tank and filling station with taps has also been built, to allow people to fill up their buckets and bottles with ease. The total cost was around 150,000 kyat (US$120) but they didn’t have enough to build a strong roof over the new water collection tank, and so the school which has also recently been repaired and upgraded through generous donations, chipped in and gave the water project the hard wood it needed for a new roof. There is also a kind-hearted group of people who visited this lovely village as part of the Old Dhammazedi Road tour, who have committed to providing funds and manpower to rebuild and repair many of the decaying bridges in the region, thus helping to increase safety and reasonable access throughout the year, which benefits Hteetan and surrounding communities.
I really had an amazing adventure that was truly inspiring, and I was able to meet some lovely people including those whose lives have changed for the better with something as simple as clean water. I also got to take off my shoes and run around in the thick clay-like mud, and play with piglets and baby goats, while seeing how something like clean water, which many of us take for granted, is invaluable to those who have none! Part of being a responsible tourist is knowing how to help those in need help themselves long-term without adding to their burden – this is what real sustainability is all about.
Please visit Khiri Reach and look at many of the wonderful projects and places we endeavor to travel to and work with.
Gili Back, Khiri Travel Sustainability Manager & Executive Director Khiri Reach