Friday, 31 May 2013 22:09

Do you have an opinion on how you should spend your dollars to make a difference? There's a debate raging on how to do it effectively, and It's a shouting match with a lot of emotional players. Get in on the action below.

One side: Entrepreneurship is the poverty cure


Poverty Cure is working on promoting a new model fo aid distribution which falls very well in line with the social entrepreneurship movement and microfinance. It's a clean, bold video. Primary criticism: Not everyone is born to be an entrepreneur. Also local businesses can't touch bigger public health problems (and often exacerbate them).

Another side: Giving it away is good


Toms has made its rounds recently as a business model with teeth and impact, distributing over 1 million pairs of shoes to developing countries. Primary criticism: Lack of sustainability and destruction of local markets. You can imagine how local cobblers (or the shoe manufacturers in the previous video) might feel about the free shoe drops destroying local demand for their products.

The third side: DATA should help us make decisions.

A lot of this is conjecture and really really hard to scientifically test. One of my heroes, Esther Duflo of MIT's Poverty Action Lab, has what I feel is a reasonable answer to this question while framing the debate in a smart and concise way. Just so you know - this is a talk and not a promo, but watch it.

(Click play, then click the timestamp 56:56 to find the video.)
Backed up here in an amazing book: Poor Economics

We belive in data, and it's important for us to find the best way to show how we're making a difference.

Saturday, 31 December 2011 11:22

We know you deserve an update - and here it is! We've been busy, and it was a huge year for us. We've successfully rebuilt a massive community irrigation system and distributed water to hundreds of households in Balang, Cambodia. We also launched a resource management program in partnership with the United Nations, and improved local fishery and livestock programs with the help of the Australian Government. Because of this, we've seen big improvements in farm production and health within Balang.

Big Floods: 2011 also saw some of the worst flooding in 50 years hit Southeast Asia. Cambodia was sadly not spared, and late monsoon rains flooded huge tracts of rice fields within our communities. This left a dent in the seasonal rice crop, but fortunately our reservoir system helped mitigate the damage. With our programs we've been working with local leaders to improve production, and we expect farmers to bounce back in 2012 with our help.


Our programs continue with your support! Human Translation was built with the idea of helping people like you connect directly to the impact and change you can make in the world. This has kept us operating as a small, lean organization with a focus on individual projects and real results. Please consider us in your year end giving - we'll make sure to let you know how 2012 turns out for us and the villagers of Balang.

Have a wonderful new year, and thank you for your support! Human Translation

Make a year-end tax deductible contribution

Monday, 31 October 2011 14:37

Over 1m People Estimated at Risk

The official estimate as of October 31st, 2011 is that 90,300 families in 15 flood-hit provinces have been affected and 97 individuals have perished in Cambodia as a direct result of flooding, including one Westerner. At the moment, about 170,000 hectares of rice fields have been submerged and more than 300 schools were closed, according to Keo Vy, communication officer of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

While the numbers seem high, our local staff have been working on mitigating the impact of the floods. "The Reservoir has helped quite a bit to lessen the flooding below the watergate," said Kat Bun Heng, Director of HT's Community Translation Organization.  And though our had to physically relocated in Siem Reap because of the high water, the team is gearing up to respond to the needs of the villagers in Balang.

Approximately 20% of the local rice crops across 8 villages have been ruined by the flooding. But more worrisome still is that several wells have been contaminated by the flooding, and we are doing our best to help villagers get the support they need.


Monday, 18 April 2011 00:49

Getting Started with Canal Construction Group

In 2010, Human Translation (HT) worked with the Ballang community to form a Canal Construction Group, which would be solely responsible for the construction of irrigation canals leading from the Trav Kod Reservoir.

You will recall that HT finished the reconstruction of the Trav Kod Reservoir with the help of Engineers Without Borders nearly two years ago, and the reservoir has proven to be a great success in storing the water needed for irrigating a second crop of rice.

But getting that water to the rice fields still needed the restoration of the irrigation canal system that had been neglected and destroyed during the civil war. To achieve this, the community needed support, leadership, and direction.

The Canal Construction Group elected Mr Chum Chet, a 34-year old farmer who has been living in Ballang his entire life, as their leader.  In addition, HT has formed the local Cambodian registered NGO called Community Translation Organization (CTO) to localize the development of this and other projects. CTO's staff is primarily Khmer, under the direction of Bun Heng Kat.  Working together, HT/CTO and the Canal Construction Group formed a plan to restore and extend the irrigation canals from the Trav Kod Reservoir to the Balang rice fields.

The First Two Kilometers

Tuesday, 02 November 2010 00:00
Dry season has hit Cambodia. Withered rice fields, dusty roads and heat over 90 degrees every day make work out at the reservoir difficult for staff and locals alike. This is the time of year to do work around the house, garden, weave mats and prepare sweets to sell at the local market. This dry season, however, will be the last that the people of 3 villages in Ballangk will have without direct access to water. Construction began this month on over 4 kilometers of canals which will carry our reservoir’s water to the villages of Popel, Kropeau and Prum Kod. The natural stream that leads out of the reservoir’s spill way already brings water to Trach, Ko Russy and Thlok Kambot villages to the west, but this new canal will bring water to the homes and rice fields in the south.

Human Translation has paired with the World Food Program (A branch of the UN) to help with construction of the canal through their “Food for Work” (FFW) initiative. The creation of this canal will allow villagers to grow that all important second crop of rice in the dry season after natural sources of water have evaporated. This second harvest will not only feed families but will also create additional disposable income for some of the poorest community members to be able to send their children to school or to afford proper medical care.

As a part of the Food for Work program, local villagers contribute physical labor towards the construction of the canals are reimbursed with sacks of rice. Additionally, certain families are also eligible for our newly launched fish pond program. Following our tenet of facilitating locally driven, sustainable community programs, Human Translation assists with construction and provides the basic materials for these small household ponds while monetary contribution to stock each pond with hundreds of fingerling catfish. These fish, specially bred for captivity, will provide much need protein for families in a country where 33% of the population is classified as malnourished and 45% of children under 5 are underweight. HT has already dug fifty of these ponds at homes in four villages and, depending on funding, plan to dig one hundred more across the commune.

Throughout Asia Cambodia is known as “the land of rice and fish”. With our two latest projects, we hope that this community will never be without these two all important staples.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009 21:57
IMG_7109-743085We’ve spent a busy fall researching the needs of the community for our next steps in education. We recently held a series of participatory rural assessments, known as PRAs, with four villages around Ballangk. The purpose of these assessments was to gather information from villagers and to brainstorm strategies on how the government, the community and our organization can work together to improve life in the area.



Monday, 10 August 2009 15:59
Sustainability is a bit of jargon these days that you'll likely find most organizations using to describe theirfisherman-701431

operations. There is obviously a tremendous spectrum of ideas and solutions that may be called environmentally, socially, or governmentally sustainable. In community development, the adage "teach a man to fish" cerainly goes a long way.

When it comes to our work, we tend to try to think of our role within a very limited range of the word sustainability: When we leave, the benefits of our work will endure. Whether those benefits are owned by the community, the government, or just enterprising individuals that wish to continue our work to their best capacity.

We feel like it should be every NGO and Nonprofit's goal to put itself out of work eventually. Clearly there are a huge number of problems for organizations to help solve, but solutions should always be implemented with the prefix of "when we are gone..." in mind. Otherwise, short term impacts may be thoroughly overshadowed by a long-term breakdown of responsibility.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009 02:37
Fields are filling up with water and the rice paddies are turning green as we reach the height of monsoon summer here in Cambodia. Students attending our English literacy classes at Trach School are preparing for a month recess from classes to go to farm on their family plots outside of the village. We have just finished our first round of testing for all six classes at the school and are happy with the results we’ve seen.

IMG_3228-778038When we began the program last November, over 100 students enrolled. Each student took a basic placement test to assess their English capacity. We received most tests back blank, as expected. This gave us a template for measuring any progress achieved through the program. We then set up 3 levels of classes with each level taught two times a day three days a week. We have a primary student’s level for children between the ages of 5 and 10 with the child-friendly Let’s Go series of English textbooks and an intermediate level for students between the ages of 10 and 18. This level is taught through the Cambodian English Course series, a textbook written specifically for young people in rural Cambodia. Additionally, we have adult classes taught through the New Headway series, which focuses on English for adults in a modern context.

Last week we finished testing the youngest primary class, bringing our round of grammar testing to a close. Each class showed a marked improvement. In the primary classes over thirty percent of the classes passed with over 85 percent. In the intermediate level the scores were even higher, with 50 percent of students scoring over 85 percent. It was the adult levels that have improved the most however, with 66 percent of the class scoring above 85 percent. These scores are above average for the region. While it may seem that the tests were too easy from these high scores, these were the same tests, with some more difficult sections added, that the students could barely fill in during the placement round of testing.

Wednesday, 01 July 2009 06:35
IMG_0010-734311Rainy season seems to have officially begun in Cambodia with regular rains falling every evening around 5 pm. This has caused a few small hiccups for HT, but most projects are progressing according to schedule.

Plans to repair the small gap at the gates of the Watergate were temporarily postponed in anticipation of a visit from the head of the National Fisheries Administration. HT is planning, in conjunction with the Fisheries Department, to release a variety of fingerling fish into the reservoir. The head of the National Fisheries Administration, H.E. Nao Thourk, came to the reservoir to inspect the project’s progress and to officially announce the plan to local community members and reporters. A reporter from a local Cambodian newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea Daily, was on hand to report the event and an article appeared this early this month.

Monday, 11 May 2009 22:22

How do you quantify good?

Impact assessment has become somewhat of a buzz phrase recently in the world of development work. Historically the primary tool for assessing the value of a humanitarian project was measured through a combination of instinct and narrative - stories told by those people affected and those who experienced first-hand the value of a project. The value shown tends to be immediate, and this method tends to satisfy a very powerful human understanding of what has worked and not worked. Politics, it seems, also tend to function in a very similar way.

Since international aid and development work is something that has only recently been brought to scale, affecting millions of people worldwide, it is about time for all of us to start thinking about the good work we're doing in a new way.

Sunday, 26 April 2009 20:11


San Francisco, CA, April 26, 2009 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be the honored guest at a luncheon at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, California, on Sunday, April 26, 2009. His Holiness will acknowledge and thank the 49 highly compassionate individuals who are the honorees of the Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2009 event.

Friday, 05 December 2008 05:32
2 good articles were published in the last two days.
This one in the New York Times talks about Cambodia and the power of irrigated infrastructure - how it is beginning to change lives throughout the country. The article focuses on Khmer Rouge era projects exclusively, not Angkor era ones. Our project, Travkod Reservoir, was also re-built during Pol Pot using poor engineering. The community's willingness to rebuild this structure was one of the reasons we decided to help them.  Now, together with the community's tremendous help, we have a reservoir.
This is the article about our project in the Phnom Penh Post.
Monday, 24 November 2008 22:40
outside imageWe held the official opening ceremony of the Trav Kod Reservoir and Embankment Repair Project on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008. We met up on Wednesday at 6am to leave for the ceremony. Ceda, Bryse, Jen and myself took the truck so we could pick up the 500 pieces of bread we had ordered for the villagers and Tobias, Wil and Kosal (our new teacher) went with the hired van to pick up the monks. We wanted to get there early to make sure everything was set up properly and on time. We didn't need to worry because the district lived up to their responsibility and set up the tents beautifully.
Around 500 red chairs were placed along the embankment under the colourful tents. By the time the ceremony began there was standing room only. Since most of our guests from town underestimated the time to get to site, they were late and unable to find any seats since the more than 500 local villagers came early and earned the right to sit away from the sun's glare. It was amazing to see the hundreds of villagers who attended! Some of our students in the English-Khmer Education Program also came to show their support. We only expected half the amount of people to attend, but were pleasantly surprised.
Saturday, 23 August 2008 16:18

Our 2008 fund raising event at Clos Pegase on August 17th turned into an amazing success. The opera performance was by all accounts breathtaking, and despite a cold wind and a few AV glitches along the way, a tenacious crowd and a fleet of incredible volunteers helped us raise over $100,000 for our new projects in clean water and education.

There is a long list of heroes who made this event a reality. Thank you to each and every person who helped make the night such an incredible success.

View a slideshow here. Photos by Jessica Caisse.


Monday, 04 August 2008 16:57

Carolyn Younger recently wrote an article for the Napa Valley Register outlining the completion of our reservoir and our upcoming fundraising event "Transforming Lives". The event will be happening on August 17th and will be supporting our new Education and Clean Water fund.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us to get to this point. I am speaking for several thousand of us in saying that we are tremendously grateful.


Friday, 11 July 2008 03:08
IMG_1944-750695Though the concrete work on the water gate is completed, there are still a few construction issues remaining for us to take care of over the next few months. Chai began work on the excavation of the downstream canal yesterday and instead of hiring an expensive excavator that would probably sink in the ground once or twice a day, the work will be carried through by local laborers from the community of Balangk. Chai has hired twenty laborers and one foreman to dig the new pathway that will allow the downstream flow to merge with its original stream, O Ta Bet. Hiring manual labor allows us to help employ locals in the villages we work with, providing work opportunities that are hard to come by.
Friday, 20 June 2008 03:06

We held our second big grassing party on Thursday, June 19th, to try and complete the embankment grassing for the reservoir. We had around 140 villagers participate along with 70 monks from the Wat Trach pagoda to complete another 20% of the embankment, which means we only have another 15% left. The day would not have been possible without the help of volunteer cooks from Prom Kod village, who cooked all of us a delicious meal, and various other villagers who helped set up the tents, collect firewood, wash dishes, donate ox-carts and refill the water supply. Without the support of the community we wouldn’t be able to pull off these events and therefore appreciate the time and effort that everyone contributes to the project. The monks from Wat Trach also deserve applause as their strength and continued support of the project sets a wonderful example for the community of Balangk to follow. Although we did not finish all the grassing, we still view the day as a huge success because as frustrating as it is working with uncooperative villages, it is more than worth the stress when you see other community members pull together to accomplish the goal at hand.


Thursday, 05 June 2008 23:50


The concrete work for the water gate is complete as of last Friday, May 30th.

The backfilling of the wing walls was also completed last week allowing us to ride over the bridge of the water gate on our motorbikes. Our contractor's remaining crew is currently working on the rip rap lining while waiting until Sunday to remove the rest of the formwork. Chanda, our contractor and his team are a month and a half ahead of schedule, and we are very excited to see the finished product. We went out on Tuesday to test out the control bars of the gateway, and were very happy to see some red added to the water gate. We are now concentrating our efforts on mobilizing the villages to complete the embankment grassing - just another 30% left! We are organizing another big event on Thursday, June 12th to accomplish the grassing in one day. We believe it will be another success. We still have substantial work to do on the excavation of the downstream canals, and we'll begin our celebrations when that and our Water User Groups are up and running!
Bac Kron and Met Sin (the two living closest to the reservoir) pose on the water gate
Wednesday, 28 May 2008 13:24

A Monsoon Grassing Video Montage from Tobias.

Sunday, 18 May 2008 00:00

This is a picture taken from last Sunday’s Grassing Kickoff. In order to involve the community on a large scale we decided to put on an event that would allow the villagers to get together for a day of fun and grassing. Along with our partner NGO, Human Resources and Natural Development (HRND), we invited the monks from the local pagoda, Wat Trach, to bless the reservoir and lead the community in the grassing work. It was a frenetic day as 350-400 villagers and monks showed up to help cook, set-up and most importantly, grass the 13, 200 square meter embankment. Although we were only able to grass 50% of the whole embankment, the event was a success as everyone had a great time grassing to the music blaring out of the speakers and slipping on the wet grass after the downpours of the day.

Our focus now is to keep the enthusiasm going among the village chiefs to mobilize their villages in order to finish grassing the rest of the embankment before the monsoon hits. We are depending on the continued participation of the community to complete this part of the reservoir reconstruction project as we are on a critical time schedule. But mobilizing a community of ten villages is a difficult task. It has and will take longer than we thought, but it will be done.

Friday, 11 April 2008 00:00

HV20 Test: Children on Embankment.

Thursday, 20 March 2008 18:04
A lot of people ask me what Human Translation means. The idea evolved from a simple truth - that we all share a universal sense of human understanding regardless of country, culture, background or language. This video was shown to me yesterday, and I think that it is an inspiring example of universal human translation. Thank you Matt.
Wednesday, 27 February 2008 21:30
Photo Gallery: Aerial Imagery and Watergate Construction

Images taken from a recent flyby in a friend's helicopter. Shots by Bouny Te and Steve Forbes. Thanks go to Steve Forbes for making this happen. Shots also of the base slab construction on the Water-gate, for which construction is now fully underway.
IMG_3009-722306 IMG_0365-721733
Friday, 28 December 2007 10:01
As you know we have been working for the last four years trying to bring water to thousands of people, in ten villages, who do not have enough for their crops. Their crops are their livelihood, and without this water, they cannot pull themselves from poverty.

My organization was founded to translate the needs of this impoverished community into actions - actions that will make an impact for generations. We're finally seeing huge strides towards completion of our reservoir.

construction of the reservoir


Since receiving such tremendous generosity from you over the summer, we've seen many changes:

  • We've successfully trained over a hundred community members into skilled laborers and technicians in infrastructure development.
  • Cleared land-mines from 50 acres of irrigation area.
  • Moved tons of earth to repair the mile-long retaining levee.
  • Continued to supply clean drinking water to hundreds more people through our Red Filter Project.

We can still use your help. We know we are finally feeling the momentum we need to complete our largest project ever attempted - the Trau Kod Reservoir System.

Construction has been going along full speed for the last two months, and if all goes to plan, we'll be seeing an ancient body of water restored to its full, life-sustaining capacity in the next six months.


If you'd like to read regular progress reports, please read the blog of Bryse, from Engineers Without Borders, who is in Cambodia providing us with some wonderful assistance.

Monday, 23 July 2007 09:23

damgirlsWe have now, finally, begun construction on our reservoir.
After ensuring the community's need over three years. After organizing an enormous de-mining operation that took many months. After working through a tangled web of bureaucracy on all levels of government - we have finally begun our construction.

We have enough funds for Phase I, so we are starting. Phase II and III will begin after the monsoons, pending financing. 9,000 people still need water, and we will do our best to provide.

For progress on construction, view EWB's website here:



Friday, 25 May 2007 12:35


Most recent update through photos and words.
Photo Journal, HT April-May 07
Sunday, 17 December 2006 05:04
silentmonklightMaintaining focus is a tough business in Cambodia. There are always side-paths here. There is always more need. We have finite resources through which to solve problems. Finite resources to battle the silent monsters afflicting people’s lives.

We do what we can when the opportunities are in front of us.

stevesomettobiasAbout two months ago, in the midst of our second engineering visit from Steve Forbes, we began a water quality assessment for the first set of filters we installed in Balang. Between photographing wells at the dusty Pagoda and asking survey questions, one of the young monks approached us and held up his hands. The boy - who was not more than 14 years old - had the wrinkled, gnarled hands of an old man.
Thursday, 20 July 2006 10:55
Over a year ago, we took on the task of helping a group of Cambodians find water. What started as a small irrigation project has grown into something much larger than we ever anticipated. Video by Irene Pak and Justine Gerenstein.


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