Back to where it all started

Becky Watts, was recently named 2016 Undergraduate Student of the Year  for her incredible contribution to the lives of many Cambodians. Installing sustainable solar energy systems into rural Cambodia is far from straightforward. You are invited into the world of Becky Watts.

Expectations – something that I should have left in Australia. Nothing is ever as expected in Cambodia – you can’t even expect the unexpected! I learnt this very quickly when I started my 20-month stint here.

I started living in this foreign country by visiting a familiar place. I was no stranger to the Secret Beach community – a picturesque rural village situated on the southern coastline. I had visited the community twice in 2015 while initiating a solar energy project and I was very excited about returning.

I had attempted to plan the visit through my translator. Apparently we hired a car and driver to travel to the community, however, I was especially nervous about how to actually GET there. A rural community in Cambodia is hardly marked on Google maps.

So we piled into the car and entered the battleground of the Cambodian roads…

There are no rules, no limits and to a foreigner it seems chaotic. Along the way I saw motorbikes carrying more than the average semi-trailer in Australia. When there’s a will there’s a way! Motorbike drivers in Cambodia give that saying a whole new meaning. Contrary to my expectations, we arrive in the community in one piece and we’re even on time! A rare occurrence here.

I spent the next day interviewing community members individually about their electricity usage and the potential for solar energy in their home. I was nervous, but confident. I knew exactly what questions I wanted to ask and in what order. I had even practiced how to ask some in Khmer!

I spent two days doing interviews and none of them were as expected – they were better than I’d imagined. The men and women in the community told me their way of life, in their own words. It was amazing to learn about how integrated the community is, not only with each other but also with the natural environment. As it is a beachside community, men start their morning when it is still dark by jumping in boats and going fishing, then they sell their catch at the local market. Some women sit in the shade out of the hot sun and spend all day peeling the shells of the crabs.

I was able to share my knowledge about solar energy and together we discussed how the technology could be integrated into the community. There is huge potential for solar power in the community and much excitement about the next phase of the project.

I didn’t try to plan the trip home and it went fine. But that time around, I had expected it to.

Until next time,


Find out more about how studying at ANU led Becky to where she is now -

Updated:  10 August 2021/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing