In the summer of 2019, I was lucky enough to travel to rural Cambodia and volunteer with the NGO, Community First. The days were spent building aquaponic systems for local families as well as developing new aquaponic designs and maintaining previously built systems.
Aquaponics is a sustainable farming method that uses recycled water to grow plants and fish in a balanced eco-system. We used simple plastic tanks and pipes to create the basic system and then built filters out of recycled buckets which created minimal waste and a durable product. The work was practical which gave me a much better understanding of aquaponics and, as an engineering student, I appreciated the hands-on experience.
While in Cambodia, I was also able to help build a prototype of a new system design that used a compressor instead of a motor to circulate the water. Compressed air was mixed with the water and so it became lighter and travelled up the pipe without the need of a motor. This is more energy efficient and conveniently oxygenates the water entering the fish tank. It also creates a stronger water flow which allows more food to be grown per system. I found this really interesting as it drew on knowledge that I had learnt at university and put it into a practical application.
As we were based in the village where the aquaponic systems were being used, we were able to see the direct effect of our work. This made the experience so much more valuable as the benefits of aquaponics in rural Cambodia are huge. One of the aquaponic systems installed by Community First is used by a family of 4 to grow food such as cucumbers. This food feeds the family and is also sold in the local market to provide them with an income. Understanding what this aquaponic system provides for the family added so much more meaning to the volunteering and showed how significant the work was.
This experience also gave me a deep insight into the culture and environment of Cambodia. The weekdays were spent in the local village where I experienced everything from the delicious – and spicy – local food to finding scorpions and giant spiders under my mattress. I saw bright green snakes, millions of mosquitos and adapted to living without running water or consistent electricity. On the weekends we were able to travel further afield giving us the opportunity to see places such as Kampot, Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap. This allowed us to visit temple sites and tourist attractions across the country and appreciate the rich culture and history of Cambodia.
I’m extremely grateful of the support that I received from the Go Abroad Fund. This experience has developed my skills and knowledge in aquaponics and allowed me to be immersed in a completely different culture and environment. I have benefitted immeasurably from this experience and I’m really thankful for being given this opportunity.