THE BLOG
06/08/2011 08:14 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2011

Holy Water in Phnom Penh

Inside Khive Thol's home, a few boards separate the single bedroom from the main living space. The corrugated iron roof leaks light onto the dirty floor. But the 60-year-old woman is drinking clean water from the tap.

Khive used to boil water from containers she bought from a truck that came around every week. She doesn't know where the water came from.

Khive Thol had been paying $1 a day for dirty, dangerous water. Now she pays about $4 a month for a faucet in her own home and so do all of her neighbors. Her access to clean water is largely due to the work of one man and one organization: 61-year-old Ek Sonn Chan and the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority he heads.

Chan says that in 1993, after four years of rule by the Khmer Rouge and 10 years of occupation by the Vietnamese, only 25 percent of the city had running water and most of those who had it didn't pay for it. The old pipes leaked, or the water was siphoned off and stolen. Now, 92 percent of households in Phnom Penh have clean running water, a phenomenal feat in such a poor country.

Ek Sonn Chan asserts, "I believe 100 percent that solving water problems [for] everyone in this world is 100 percent possible. "It's not the problem of scarcity of water resources; it's not the lack of financing, but because of [the] lack of good governance."

I hear a centuries-old echo from a Universalist country rabbi:

"I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

I don't know if Ek Sonn Chan is a Christian. It doesn't matter. He is enlivened by a cosmic spiritual ethic. Jesus is one among legions of spiritual masters to articulate the meaning of righteous living.

Ek Sonn Chan is not merely providing for the bodily thirst of the people of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. His offering is Holy Water.

Chan has written on a piece of paper above his bed that he will not rest until all of Cambodia has clean running water.

The paper pages fashioned into a book in my nightstand titled "The Holy Bible" bear witness to the breath of the Eternal Spirit.

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me."