The homes my wife and I glimpsed through our taxi's window had been cobbled together with scrap-wood walls, frayed thatch roofs and plank floors. Outside, Cambodian villagers hunched over hoes, cultivating dirt patches so spent that the bean and sweet potato plants seemed too tired to try.
We were returning from a temple and asked our driver to pull to the side of the road so that we could speak with some of the people. According to The World Bank, the majority of Cambodia's 15.3 million inhabitants scrape by on less than US$2 a day. Malnutrition is the norm, not the exception.
Most of Cambodia's poor live in the countryside amid sun-cooked cropland like and including the cracked earth that stretched out around us. Picking a house at random, we approached a woman (pictured) and her three young children, seated on the floor of their 8-by-8-foot home.
With the driver translating, we learned that the woman's husband had died the previous year and that she struggled to support her family. One of her biggest burdens, she said, was her daily, three-hour walk to the nearest well to fetch a bucket of water for her family. That's three hours each way—six hours round-trip.
After thanking the woman for her time, my wife and I asked the driver to take us shopping.
We returned the next day with a sturdy bicycle and 5-gallon water containers that fit neatly into a metal basket over the front wheel. A rack on the back was well suited for carrying a passenger. We also brought sacks of rice, plastic cups, laundry detergent, other household goods, and uniforms that would enable the children to attend school. You can see many of the items in the photo.
It took a while for the driver to make the woman understand that these were gifts for her. The look of joy on her face when it registered suggested that she was imagining how much easier it would be for her to have many gallons of water at home and not have to spend days fetching them.
In all, the gifts and taxi fare cost US$160. The woman's gratitude will stay with me forever.