By Anneliese Esparza
For the last few years, fourth graders from St. Francis de Sales School in Riverside have collected cans and bottles to raise money for needy Cambodians.
The money has been used to purchase 50 water purification systems to give families from the village of Kompong Khleang easy access to clean water, a luxury they didn’t previously have.
“[Before] they had to go down to the river and bring the water back and then boil it for purification,” said Kathy Piguet, St. Francis de Sales School’s interim principal and fourth grade teacher.
Kompong Khleang is a small floating village that depends on the tourism business, which means that COVID-19 has hurt them financially.
Piguet brought the project to St. Francis de Sales School three years ago. It all started when a close friend of hers visited Cambodia. Piguet’s friend saw the need and spoke with her when he returned.
“We talked about this, and I said it would be a great outreach for our fourth graders to recycle, to collect bottles and cans to recycle to earn money to buy these [water purification] systems for this village,” she said.
Piguet’s friend and another donor offered to match whatever funds that the students raised so that their impact could be doubled.
The first year, the project raised about $200. A year later, that number had grown to about $350. This year’s fourth graders have already raised almost $400 from the beginning of the school year until now.
“We’re doing really well ... we were able to equip the entire village with water filter systems. So, then we continued our outreach [by asking], what do you need next?” said Piguet.
After buying the water filtration systems, they then paid for some children to attend school in a neighboring village. Their next goal is to fund a school in Kompong Khleang, itself.
“Our goal now, since we have water filters for everyone in the village, is to get this school up and running. So, the money we earn this year with our recycling will be used for helping build this school,” said Piguet. They plan to buy a modular building, which will cost about $5,000.
In addition to the help that the outreach has brought to the needy families of Kompong Khleang, Piguet said that this project also benefits the St. Francis de Sales School students.
“They’re helping keep the world clean and recycling all the plastics and aluminum that they can, keeping their own communities clean ... and then, maybe they feel that they don’t have much, but they see that people have a lot less,” said Piguet.
“Our school has a really good group of students. They’re very caring for other people and they’re excited that they can help someone else. So, they really do see the love and the care from themselves to other people that they don’t even really know,” added Piguet. “The students feel really proud that they’re able to help people that have so much less than they do.”
After COVID-19, Piguet hopes to visit Kompong Khleang, herself. She plans to continue running the program with her fourth graders indefinitely.
“I just think it’s a great program for the students ... yes, we’ve all done without a lot this year, but there are still people that have a lot less,” she said.
Anneliese Esparza is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Martha in Murrieta.