SkyJuice volunteer, Tim McCalman recently undertook a field trip for SkyJuice to assist with the installation of twin SkyTower safe drinking water installations Khanh Hoa province of Vietnam. Here are his thoughts impressions and experiences. Bruce Biltoft, a water industry veteran of passive membrane technology, also accompanied Tim.
The project to be completed involved the installation of two separate SkyTowers, which could supply enough potable water for two isolated schools. These schools were located in the mountainous Khanh Hoa province on the South Eastern coastline of Vietnam.
Here are Tim’s recollections on his journey:
Our base was at Nha Trang, a very populous coastal city renowned for its heavy focus on tourism. Late night arrivals the previous day and 6AM start the next day have us fired up and ready to go!
It was roughly an hour’s drive to the village so we climbed into two taxis and headed off trying to be beat the heat of the day. My first impression of Nha Trang as a modernised city quickly changed within a short couple of kilometres. The outer suburbs were quite clearly impoverished and lacking any real structural attention or infrastructure that was familiar to me in Australia. The streets were at times rough, crowded and busy with the traffic operating through a system of organised chaos. The roads were cluttered with thousands of scooters often over-loaded with all kinds of interesting cargo configurations. Necessity solves many problems… I get it!!
I honestly don’t think I could ever get used to the road rules over there. The concept of ‘Giving Way’ was pushed to the extreme, as our driver would constantly pull out in to oncoming traffic, navigating around blind corners to race around whatever hazard had slowed us down. Relax, I tell myself!
Once leaving the actual city we travelled across an amazing landscape and incredible open plain of rice fields littered with local farmers busy at work. The further inland we travelled the more remote and isolated the communities became. Eventually, we ascended into the mountainous terrain, which was layered with thick, dense forests. On approach to the first school installation site we were surprised to be offered a” police escort”.
Wow! I could get used to this! Where were these guys back in town?
Two police motorcycles ensured us a quick and easy passage along the final dirt roads. The noise of the sirens provided some interest from the local villagers as we zoomed past their open dwellings. This is now becoming a great adventure and we are yet to get into construction mode.
The first school installation site was located high up in the mountains where it was quite obvious that we were far from the modernised world. Most of the community members were farmers with very modest income and lifestyles. Each home was constructed out of very basic materials and often only contained a single room for an entire family. Watching chickens and pigs rummaging around the roads looking for scraps of food added to my realisation at how remoteness and magic of this place. To my pleasant surprise though, the school was in sound condition. Straight away I sensed a priority within this community, on values.
We were greeted by a number of locals who were all very friendly and eager to get a start on the first SkyTower installation. After a quick assessment of the equipment we were pleased to confirm that the shipment from HCMC had survived to 10 hour road trip intact and it was all in “good nick” and ready for construction.
With Bruce Biltoff and I directing the people around us, the tower was assembled with relative ease. The language barrier was at times difficult, but due to the simplicity of the tower components and installation instructions it all went together. Our local team were very helpful at putting together the modular frame. In the hot, humid tropical conditions the assembly process was swiftly completed in two hours. Apparently this new record and usually this is a 4+-hour process. With Bruce’s experience we made a neat team. By this time the temperature had climbed to 38 C and we were all drenched in puddles of sweat. I was going to need some of that safe clean water sooner than I expected! Rehydration is an issue.
Vietnamese hospitality was amazing as we were treated to a wonderful lunch of local cuisines and delicacies from the area. This was a real bonus. It gave us a good chance to sit down with the locals and try to have a bit of a chat and share some banter. Again, the language barrier limited our communication and often the conversation ended with a polite smile and an acknowledgment that we had no idea what each other was talking about. These are interactions and authentic experiences that confirmed my initial desires to volunteer on these projects.
Stuffed with food and our energy levels restored we were keen to move onto the next school to complete the second installation. Our kind guests had other ideas though and insisted that we lie down and take a nap in one of the local hotels for an hour or so. It was strange but quite flattering to experience such unique hospitality. I will take this concept back to Australia!
After lunch we returned to the first school it was time for the official opening ceremony. Wow! No mucking around here! Here we were met by hundreds of school kids and a number of government officials to celebrate the occasion. The formalities that followed included speeches, a lot of media coverage, an impressive concert from some of the children and a ‘cutting the ribbon’ ceremony which stretched into the late afternoon. We all appreciated the effort from the locals to express their gratitude towards us.
In saying this, it was very hot and seemed a little over the top, but shows maybe how we take these basic utilities for granted in Australia. It was soon clear to me that this was a big deal. Respect and appreciation are deeply embedded within this society. I am learning and observing on this job!
After a demonstration on the SkyTower and teaching the locals how to operate the cleaning and maintenance schedule of the SkyHydrant, it was time to head back to the hotel. The second installation was completed the following morning. By then we had mastered the construction process and had it completed in less than two hours.
The overall experience of the installations was very positive and somewhat empowering. The knowledge that each of the SkyHydrant filters we installed would supply clean drinking water to over 1500 school children was something that I found very rewarding. Although there were the normal assembly hiccups in the construction process, there were no major setbacks and everything was completed on schedule.
The feedback we received was also very positive and it appears as though more SkyTowers will be assembled in the Khanh Hoa Province in the near future. I was very happy that I got to be part of the construction and facilitation process and certainly look forward to being involved in further projects.
Engineering and technology can dramatically impact humanity. This is real and tangible. I will be back for more!
Above: Tim and the Vice Chair of Khanh Hoa Peoples Committee, Mr Thien.