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Community First’s goal is to create local solutions to the global problems of poverty by connecting changemakers from throughout the world. Meet the students of California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and how they’re doing their part in turning the challenges of poverty into academic opportunities and professional achievements.

The project was started in late 2014 as a graduate engineering project in the Mechanical Engineering lab under Professor Sam Landsberger. The objective is to build a self-sustaining one-tank aquaponics system at CSULA. The experience gained on this project will be very valuable to Community First as they develop aquaponics solutions in rural Cambodia.  The formal project kick-off included from left to right: Professor Sam Landsberger, Robert Alvarez, Robert Shalgian, Christopher Carlo, Meenu Singh, Measrainsey Meng (all project members), Thomas Hurst (external advisor) and Victoria Hurst (Donegee Media).

Project kick off at CSULA

The team members are bringing expertise in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering as well as excellent software skills. The system they are building is based on a Constant Height One Pump (CHOP) design using an Intermediary Bulk Container (IBC). Two workstreams are progressing in parallel: The fish tank and grow bed are being assembled with the piping and pump system. The sensors are being sourced, tested and integrated to the Arduino based control system. A solar panel system will later be added to the system.

Team & Arduino Controller

From right to left: Measrainsy Meng, Christopher Carlo, Robert Shalgian, Robert Alvarez, Meenu Singh and external adviser JP Mainguy.

The ability to monitor continuously the state of the aquaponics system is a key objective of this project. The team is integrating sensors to measure the following parameters: Water temperature, water level, water pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia. The Arduino controller will display the parameters of each sensor and allow a user to monitor easily the status of the aquaponics system (the initial breadboard is shown on the picture).

The Los Angeles Arboretum has expressed interest in this project and we are very excited about building an aquaponics demonstrator for the public. The CSULA team is working with them to duplicate their system in the vegetable garden area of the Arboretum. It will be accessible to the visitors interested in home gardening and aquaponics. Here is the location where the unit will be installed:

Team at LA Arboretum

From right to left: Pierre Mainguy (Community First, President), Richard Schulhof (LA Arboretum, CEO), Robert Alvarez (CSULA), Measrainsey Meng (CSULA), Tim Phillips (LA Arboretum).

This project is scheduled to continue through CSULA winter and spring semesters.

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We are connecting changemakers to create local solutions to the global problems of poverty…

…in order to help forgotten communities lift themselves out of poverty.

Rural Cambodia Food Security Agriculture Farming Gardening 6Thanks to the Pasadena Rotary, we are able to provide basic needs for the families of Sen Sok. Resources are no longer so scarce that families have to break apart to seek financial opportunities to provide for their families basic necessities. Since 2009 Community First has been working with these families of Sen Sok to help develop a plan to grow their community, and as a result, they are able to build a brighter future together.

We are happy to announce that Community First has received a generation donation of 430 acres of land. We were connected with a professional wild cat trainer who has land and a love for Cambodia. Originally he came to Cambodia to work on a movie project and during his time he fell in love, both with the land, and his wife, an Apsara dancer. Believing in the mission of Community First, he officially offered the land in order to create an aquaponics school for Cambodian farmers to reinvigorate the community and to establish a hub of ancient Khmer craftsmanship like Lacquer production.

We are helping reinvigorate traditional Khmer crafts to reestablish an ancient cultural tradition


Meet Ta Ly, he is one of the very few remaining lacquer farmers left in Cambodia and his skills can help his entire village. Often, talented craftsmen are isolated from monetary capital and markets to sell their goods, but with our next stage of plans, we hope to establish Cambodia as a major competitor in the high value lacquer market. Lacquer has a long tradition in Cambodia and we are happy to announce that we have teamed up with Master Lacquerer Eric Stocker to help us revive high value Lacquer and reestablish this part of Ta Ly’s heritage and culture.
Through the connections and partnerships that we’ve establish we will be able to make change, together.

Here at Community First we’ve been having a busy couple of months. We’ve reached out and made amazing strides and partnerships. We have partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture of Cambodia and the APSARA Authority! And right now, our educational network is expanding and we are discussing a potential partnership with another University that is the forefront of social change mobilized by students–the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

With our current partnership at California State University, Los Angeles we have a team of students who are creating an aquaponics based solution for those who depend on agriculture for economic survival. 80% of Cambodians live off of farming and Khun (pictures to the left) is one of those Cambodian farmers. The team at CSULA is working hard to create a solution so that farmers like Khun can combat soil and water depletion–a problem that is not just facing Cambodia, but the entire world.

We are connecting changemakers to work together to find holistic solutions to world poverty.

We would like to say Thank You! to everyone who came to our annual party. We would especially like to thank the Khmer Arts Academy who graced us with a wonderful classical Cambodian dance performance. (See pictures below! Thanks to DonegeeMedia for covering the event) All of us at Community First are incredibly honored for the presence of so many passionate people who are excited for the work we are doing in Cambodia. Without your energy and passion, all of our work would not be possible.


If you’d like to see the entire gallery of the event click here.

We would especially like to give a big shout out to the Rotary Club of Sierra Madre and Compassionate Rescue, a Sierra Madre nonprofit organization, who graciously donated to Community First to ensure that our efforts in Sen Sok can continue.


Keep up to date by liking our facebook . Make sure you keep connected to our blog to get the latest information about our continued work abroad.

Be The Change You Wish To See.

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Episode One of the webdocumentary series launches! See the trailer and get updates on the web-release of our first episode on Water & Agriculture in Cambodia, featuring the lives of the villagers our organization has helped over the years.

Three additional episodes will be released starting this November. Stay tuned for more details!

Watch the trailer:

Produced by Donegee Media, the project was entirely shot on-location in the villages of Sen Sok last August, on a generous pro-bono basis. Directing the project is Victoria Hungerford and Danielle Phann is director of photography.

The Community First team also extends their most sincere thanks to Thomas Hurst and Nic Tourani who also volunteered as part of the film crew this past summer.


This project would not have been possible without the generous financial support of early donors of the project – thank you!

Episode One: Water & Agriculture

Here is episode one of the four-part web-documentary series “Sen Sok: a web-documentary about the villagers of rural Cambodia” 

Meet Uncle Thoeun from Kok Yeang Village, and Mrs. San Chumraon and find our how the gift of clean water changed their lives!

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Sen Sok Water Campaign.  Bringing clean water to 9,000 people though partnership with Rotary District 5300.

November 2012 marked the start of the Sen Sok Water Campaign, in which Community First Initiatives began to drill deep water wells into the 16 villages that form the larger conglomeration of Sen Sok in northwestern Cambodia. When the project was completed a year later in November 2013, the villagers of Sen Sok had access for the first time to a clean, healthy and sustainable source of water.

A large part of the success of the campaign can be attributed the Rotary Club of District 5300 in Pasadena, California. The 200 plus members of Pasadena’s Rotary Club pulled together during an annual Gala at the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena to successfully raise $25000 for the drilling of 16of wells, one for each village. Upon completion of the project, Sen Sok and its population of nearly 10,000 villagers are served by the new wells.

Community First - Hand Cranked Water Well

Each well is able to support villagers for many years to come, particularly because of the care that went into the preparation of the drilling. Instead of blindly choosing drilling locations, Pierre and the rest of the team at Community First consulted with both the locally-hired drilling contractor as well as the villagers to decide upon the locations containing the best quality supplies of water. Villagers contributed land and well as any construction materials they could provide and the drilling contractor did the rest. To read more about the details of the wells, click here: http://communityfirst-global.org/wells/.

The impact on Sen Sok and the lives of the people living there cannot be understated. The transition from water sourced from hand-dug pits like the one seen in the picture below, to the well water immediately reduced the number of diseases. Without having to walk many kilometers to source water, villagers can now focus more time on maintaining their rice fields and other crops.

Community First - Hand Dug Water Pit 1

With the company of Rotarian John Whaley, who is also Chairman of the Board of Community First, we returned to Sen Sok in July of 2014 to get an update. The details of our return trip can be found in an upcoming blog post.

We cannot thank the Pasadena Rotarians enough for their support, and we are excited to continue to work together to impact the lives Cambodian villagers in life-changing ways.

The five-part documentary series on the Sen Sok village can be viewed here: http://communityfirst-global.org/sen-sok-the-web-documentary/


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“When the well is dry, we know the Worth of Water”
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanach, 1746

Contractors drilling a location, Smach

Community First’s exciting new water well program is thriving. The 16 villages of the Sen Sok commune don’t have access to clean water. The people have to get it from remote open air wells, or from rain water collected from rooftops. Access to clean water is a critical issue for developing countries because of water-borne diseases and of the extensive labor required. In the Sen Sok commune, Community First has made a difference by working with a small Cambodian contractor to bring water to the first two villages of the commune. With each project, one village at a time, we see how access to clean water is changing the lives of the people. In the Sen Sok Commune we have to drill as deep as 50 meters (over 160 feet) to reach a reliable water table. In contrast, some other areas of the Siem Reap Province such as Angkor Thom, where the Angkor Temples are found, the water table is only a few meters deep.

This unfortunate geographic feature of Sen Sok Commune has called for some innovative thinking and additional resources. We had to drill deeper and install heavy duty pumps to bring the water to ground level.

Our water program has been designed to not only provide water, but also to make it a sustainable resource that the community can own and maintain. The community wells are built on a piece of land that was donated by a family for this purpose. To ensure the sustainability of the initiative, a Water Pump Committee takes responsibility for the well. This allows people to take pride in this new resource.

Water Pump Committee, Kok Yeang

Composed of two men and two women, the Water Pump Committee is in charge of (1) ensuring the maintenance and the occasional repairs and (2) disseminating knowledge best practices on water usage and sanitation.

Because we have chosen to work in an area where water is difficult to access, we may not be able to dig a well for each community. We have therefore designed a simple system for water mobility.

A water cart is provided to each Water Pump Committee. The water cart can contain up to 220 liter (58 gallons). It makes it possible for villagers to fill up in less than a day, instead of having to carry water buckets back and forth over several days.

This clean water can be used by families for drinking and cooking. In addition, access to this essential resource will also enable families to start small scale agricultural initiatives with the help of Community First’s Agricultural Program.

Water Cart, Kok Yeang

Mr. Choy Thoeun, father of five, from Kok Yeang village, told us how grateful he was for the new well. He used to fetch all his water from a hand dug pit out in the rice paddies. It took him several hours each day to carry water back and forth with two buckets slung over his shoulders. Choy Thoeun says “Now my family no longer struggles to fetch water from long distance, as we have a water well near the house and access to a water cart. Also, for the first time in our lives, we don’t have to constantly worry about the lack of water, and the water-borne diseases are reduced. Yes, our living standard are greatly improved!

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