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Running the river for water cause

American Jeff Dean and his Canadian wife Nathalie Samson are taking responsible tourism in the Kingdom to a spectacular new level by running an incredible 500 kilometres along the entire length of the Cambodian portion of the Mekong river over the next ten days. Their sponsored run is aimed at helping the cause of the lack of pure drinking water in rural areas.

The couple set out on this adventure from the sleepy town of O’Svay in Steung Treng province yesterday morning. Their proposed route will take them through the provinces of Kratie, Kampong Cham, and Kandal, before briefly visiting Phnom Penh for the home stretch towards the hamlet of Kaoh Kok in Prey Veng province bordering Vietnam.

Scores of friends, admirers and curious onlookers gathered at the starting point to see Jeff and Nathalie off, on a course that is, to them, virtually unchartered.

“We hope to cover around 50 kilometres a day,” said Dean. “We don’t know what the terrain is like and what the conditions are. In a way not knowing the route is helpful. We can tackle the challenges as they come.”

The 38-year-old Ottawa resident and his partner, who have barely three years of running experience behind them, were inspired by a 111km run through the Sahara Desert by family friend Ray Zahab for his organisation Impossible to Possible.

They completed a 250km charity run from Angkor Wat to Preah Vihear in January of last year. “Our first run was a real endurance test, and it went well beyond our own belief,” recalled Dean.

“We came here as tourists [in 2008] and we were well aware of the drinking water issues in rural areas. We were driven to this [idea] by a flash thought one day when we were visiting the temples on our bikes during our first visit to the Kingdom. I just thought, why not run?

“We are running once again to raise awareness about water issues in rural Cambodia. We hope that our run this time will allow us to raise even more funds than the previous run.”  

The couple managed to collect enough donations last year for non-profit organisation One Filter One Family to provide one deep-water well in Phum Pyam village of Siem Reap’s Svay Leu district. Four additional wells were also installed in Kbal Kropeu village of Puok district while five bio-sand water filters were sent to the village of Pong Ro in Bakong District.

“Our aim this time is to cover an entire village,” said Dean.

World Watchers have already raised red flags that the next World War would be over water. Both Jeff and Nathalie concur with this ominous prediction, and feel that every small step that the community takes to set the imbalances right will help the world become a better place.

When the couple’s grueling Mekong Discovery Trail ends in late January, their mission to bring out positive changes in rural life, one filter at a time, will have been sufficiently boosted.

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