Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.


Revisiting Cambodia’s past with a new hope

Posted in Cambodia on October 30, 2018

Day 1: First Day Phnom Penh

We arrived! After three flights and many hours we touched down in Phnom Penh. For four of us it was a return visit – for the other five it was a brand new, exciting experience!
Cambodia has changed significantly in 11 years! Phnom Penh. Always a bustling city has gone from a city of tuk-tuks to one populated with SUVs, pickup trucks, motorcycles and Lexus’. Many new buildings are under construction, they have a new stadium surrounded on all sides by high rises and on the Sunday we were witness to a lavish wedding with hundreds of women in beautifully coloured traditional/modern silk gowns and modern matching 6” heels and men in brightly coloured silk jackets. It is definitely experiencing a new level of prosperity!
But….there is an underlying sense of a culture still grappling with the effects of a country divided by genocide. Deep poverty exists, but at a subterranean level in the cities.
The beautiful Cambodian people and stunning traditional Khmer architecture can be seen at every turn. In contrast, we also saw the pictures and instruments of torture from the start of the Polpot regime from 1975-1979 at the Toul Slang Museum. Life has not been easy for Cambodians.
Later we head to Kep to get ready for the start of our project!

Marcia Julian, DWC Team Leader

Day 2: …and so we get to work! 😄

Cambodia is hot like a midsummer day, with high humidity, so lush. Rice is nearing maturity, the rains have stopped and people are cleaning up their yards.

We started laying bricks almost immediately upon arrival at the worksites. We are in two groups and building latrine walls at the moment. The families are working hard alongside us – anxious to complete their new structure!

They have never had a “biffy” before and have been doing their business in the jungle for as long as they can remember.

Rural families here live at a subsistence level, as farm labourers. Illiteracy is at 48% and many children leave school early to help with family income. Education is free but earning money to survive is paramount. Many educated people were killed during the war and the effects are far reaching.

At midday we break for lunch. Morning glory stir fried for lunch and octopus soup, delicious! Incredible flavours, especially lemongrass. Stephanie finds her happiest moments being with the local children!

Back at the worksite, Janice is surprised by an unwanted friend and the gallant father climbs the wall and seizes the “terrible toad” (aka the “frightening frog”). The pig is a critic and watches our work unerringly. He often snorts and passes approval or???

The group works hard on both structures and the walls go up….Stay tuned!! 😁

Marcia Julian, DWC Team Leader

Day 3: Brick by brick, hand over hand, one at a time

A good start to the day with yoga and meditation in the tree house followed by a breakfast of omelet , banana pancakes and fresh fruit. Then off to the project site to first move 740 bricks from the street to the latrine area. With the help of mom and dad we moved the bricks quickly… Congo line style.

We had great progress today with John building the inside reservoir and the rest of the team completing the four outside walls and all this done by lunch! At lunch time the neighbouring children came show us their treasures and to practice their English.

After lunch we piled back into the van and headed to the Chamcar Bei School where we were joined by the children we had met at lunch. We soon heard the children reciting the English alphabet and counting.
It was surprising to see how many children were In the small classrooms, with four children to one desk. Former DWC teams volunteered at the school to paint the shutters blue, paint a mural and construct a performing arts stage.

We ended our day with a hike to the Chamcar Bei Temple. From there you overlooked the valley, which brought on feelings of peace and serenity.

Marcia Julian, DWC Team Leader

Chamcar Bei Temple

Overlooking the valley from Chamcar Bei Temple

Working hard….dad digs….

lifts shovel to mom…who throws dirt to side…

then she gives shovel back to dad…

Day 4: Reflecting on time and progress

Just another glorious day in a dreamlike setting as we rise for our 3rd workday on the project. It is a relaxing morning with yoga and meditation at 6:30am followed by breakfast at 7:30am. The hotel is coping well with our numbers… nine for breakfast prepared on two single burner Propane stoves. Quite a feat when you think about it. It is wonderful to have such youthful friendly faces meeting our every need.

On the bus by 8am and heading for our project sites of two families in Chamcar Bei. The latrines are coming along very well with the final parging coat being applied today. We step back and look at what we have accomplished so far and beam with pride. Not only are we working outside our comfort zone but we are doing it well.

We expect to complete these two brick latrines tomorrow. Lunch is hosted by a local family who generously offer a warm, inviting space and excellent food for the team to enjoy. We stay for an hour and then return to the job at hand. With two latrines expected to be completed by late tomorrow or early Friday we have two more to build for two other families next week. Everyone in our band of “mature” teammates is energetic and perky putting far more energy and commitment into the project than our hosts were expecting. Hats off to the team !

This evening we are heading into Kep for a dinner at The Sea Shore Restaurant by the shore of the Sea of Thailand. We hoped to arrive in time to see the sunset but it doesn’t wait for anything near the equator and set as we were driving there on the bus. This was a wonderful experience with fabulous cooking and the happy sounds of a team that has become a family. We have learned that we can take on all challenges we all face with the support of our teammates. Thank you all.

John Greven, DWC Volunteer

Day 5: From Latrines to the Land…a day of contrasts

After Cambodia, I will never look at bathrooms or rice the same way. For me, this trip has been a big package of amazing sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and most importantly, working with and getting to know the other eight DWC volunteers. This tribe of wise and wonderful people bring humor and hard work to every part of the day. From sunrise, collaborative yoga and meditation in our tree house, to latrine building, to harvesting rice……everyone pitches in and gets the job done.

As a rookie in the group, I have been very moved by the lovely, appreciative people we’ve worked alongside. Language is a barriere but, communication still happens and we seem to be making good progress. This technique of building with brick and mortor is used for most of their buildings and we’ve gained appreciation for the labor and skill required for all sizes of construction projects.

Today we were given a lovely opportunity to try our hand at harvesting rice. It was intensely hot, but we learned how to stay upright and how to unstick ourselves from the mud, while wielding a dangerous machete and gathering the delicate rice. The plants have been bundled up to dry, and on Monday, we will learn the next step.

It’s day 4 of our work week and amazingly, the piles of brick and motor are disappearing for our two latrines and the first stage of the rice harvest is done. The families have been very appreciative and we’ve been treated to lovely food, smiles and hugs. I feel much gratitude to be part of a team and organization that is making the world better a little bit at a time.

Janice, DWC Volunteer

! We had a Halloween and carved a…..squash!! 😄

Rice harvesting 101.

A tribe of travelling rice pickers.

A steadying hand to get unstuck from the mud.

A kicked bucket requiring urgent medical care.

Day 6: Labours of love under blazing sun and shade

The first week went by quickly, as it always does. Most of the volunteers settled into their morning routine of yoga and meditation, before a breakfast of omelette, banana pancake and pastries. On Monday, we laid most of the bricks, initially believing we would “run out of work in a couple of days” thinking that we would finish the latrines very quickly, having laid most of the wall bricks on the first day. The devil is in the details as they say, by day two and beyond, we soon realized that all of us working flat out may not complete our two projects by Friday. Team 2 “blazing sun” managed to complete their latrine, and Team 1 “shady”, completed 90% of theirs Friday afternoon. The work turned out to be more and more detailed as each day passed. We all agreed that the final product was quite beautiful, carefully finished both inside and out. the water reservoir that holds the water ladle had to be made watertight, and the squat toilet and floor smoothly cemented in place. Having never seen a finished latrine, we had no idea of the amount of labour and time this would take.
Since we need to begin two more latrines on Monday, the family of the team 1 latrine will finish theirs on the weekend. Both families were very grateful, and we volunteers are elated to be able to provide sanitary toilet facilities to families that have been waiting literally a lifetime. A celebration of each project ensued and small gifts were given to the families by volunteers.

We then went to “Our School”, the site of the first Cambodia DWC project began in 2007, and were greeted with a warm welcome by teachers and the whole school of children.

Volunteers finished Friday afternoon with a short trip to a world famous organic Kampot black pepper farm, a perfect opportunity for volunteers to buy some pepper for their families, and as gifts.

The weekend will be a fun sightseeing trip to Bokor mountain then some beach time at Rabbit Island, just offshore from Kep.

Cam Grant, DWC Volunteer

This little one was sleeping at the place where we go for lunch.

A monk at the temple at Boukor. We loved his “embrace” of the deity!

Day 7:Exploring historic vistas

It’s Saturday and we’re looking forward to a visit to Boukor Mountain!

In the morning we climb out of the heat of the day into 3800 feet of cool breezes and fresh air. The trip that took two hours to make the climb through huge potholes and bad roads in 2007, was accomplished in under 45 minutes on smooth, paved roads. Boukor Mountain was always a sacred site for the Cambodian people and there is a lovely old Buddhist Temple close to the top. Later their much loved King Sianhouk built his modest summer palace there in 1938 to escape the heat of Phnom Penh. In addition, in the 1920s, the French built a beautiful hotel (the Boukor Palace) and Casino at the top of the mountain along with a little Catholic Church.

The Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge fought some of their battles in this sacred place and ravaged all of the buildings in the mid 1970s. They were left to sadly deteriorate until 2017 when a Cambodian politician dedicated funding and restored the Boukor Palace to it’s original grandeur.

Since that time, modern condos, built with funding from China and Vietnam are crowding the mountain and a Vietnamese temple has been erected close to the Buddhist temple. Many of the Buddha’s have been defaced and graffitied.

It has been a day of breathtaking vistas and great learning about current and historic politics!

DWC Volunteer

Day 8: Rabbit Island

Sunday started out as a hazy lazy day. We took two traditional boats over to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island), named for it’s shape rather than it’s inhabitants!
It was a beautiful day to relax on the gorgeous beach, read/sleep in hammocks, swim with children in the warm turquoise ocean, get a massage and enjoy cocktails….ah! Life in Cambodia can be sweet!! 🌴
Nice to take a break before going back to work tomorrow to start two more latrines for families.
As the saying here goes “Same – same…..but different”!!!

Marcia Julian, DWC Team Leader

Day 9: What a day it was!

After visiting our first family and rejoicing with them at the completed latrine, now replete with an electric lightbulb and water in the reservoir, we arrived full of energy and enthusiasm at the sites of our 3rd and 4th latrines.
These locations are on either side of Pa’s house, the place we go for fabulous home cooked lunches each day.
The day was really hot and humid right from the start, and upon our arrival we saw that the materials and contractors were already on the site, and a worker was digging a hole at each site. At both places, the properties are low and close to the water table. After attempting to remove the water that was rushing into the hole with buckets, it was decided to dig a hole that would hold two rings side by side and then stack one more on top of each rather than stack the rings four high.
We had decided to stick with our same teams, as we were all working well together. Our team, Bev, Marly, Cam and I waited until the contractor and his workers had poured cement on tamped rocks for the footings and had laid a row of bricks to mark the footprint of the latrine. At that point we all got to work doing what each of us had enjoyed doing during the building of the first latrine. Three of us formed a conga line and moved the bricks into piles on each side of the building. Then, with fresh supplies of mortar being delivered to us where we stood, we worked until break side by side with the contractor, Mr. Cheng, Sokheng, our Equitable Cambodia host and Savorin, our van driver who mixes a mean batch of cement….who knew?? We surprised ourselves that we were already up to shoulder height in the brick level by the time we sat in the shade for our morning water break. By lunch, we were needing to stand on boards to reach the height.

This was our first photo of the day. We dropped by to say hello to the first family Team 1 built the latrine for last week. They we so joyful to have been given a latrine. The woman of the family even added a little basket of toiletries on the wall of her family’s new toilet. It will make a huge difference in the health of her family. This photo is of the entire family and Team 1. Congratulations everyone!

John chats with a young woman we met at the pepper plantation, but who lives with our cook, her sister.

By the time we left for the day, both teams had sweated buckets in the almost 100% humidity of a day that reached 36 C and felt like 41. There is very little shade at either site. Both teams had installed and bricked around their window/vents and doors, and our team had surprised itself that we completed half the initial parging of our building. We have learned so much on the first build. We work together as a team, looking for what each person will need next and making sure it is there waiting (thanks Bev). We know how to lay a thicker layer of mortar to be able to nestle the brick on the previous row, and I watched us scoop up the excess mortar and catch it in the bucket, so wasting less. We obviously are faster at our tasks, and although the heat was oppressive, we all kept really good spirits throughout the day.

Check out our progress! We have before and end of day photos as well as a selection of the team at work.

We are headed,back to the hotel to shower and/or swim and then we are off to dinner at a restaurant where we will be able to watch the sunset over the beautiful, calm Sea of Thailand. I think we will all sleep very well tonight!

Cathy Greven, DWC Volunteer

A proud Grandpa and a little boy who points at everything and asks its name, as he explores his world.

This was the warm welcome Team 1 received when they arrived at their site this morning.

Savoeurn, our van driver, decided to get right into the project with Team 2 today. He turned out to be an amazing mortar mixer. Thanks so much for your help!

Team 1 showing how far they have gone before taking a break for lunch.

Cameron puts his bricklaying skills to work on the back wall. Now that we know what is involved in the steps of the build and we know where we are heading, we all seem to be able to move more quickly. I wouldn’t say it is a matter of greater skill after only one previous build (last week).

Marly was getting close to completing her last row of bricks for the day. Everyone worked so hard today in very warm conditions.

This little guy heard his Mom calling and peeked around the corner from his hiding spot.

Stephanie was getting close to the uppermost layer of bricks by mid afternoon.

John was working all day in the blazing sun and was working in a low spot….both very challenging.

Janice is straightening a brick at the door of the latrine. The door goes in very early on in the build. It is braced and we must wait to do any work inside the latrine until the door has hardened in place.

Janice is straightening a brick at the door of the latrine. The door goes in very early on in the build. It is braced and we must wait to do any work inside the latrine until the door has hardened in place.

I caught Stephanie and Twyla peeking over the wall they were bricking. You are obviously really getting the hang of how to lay bricks, second time around. 🙂

Marcia, Stephanie and Twyla chat about the challenges of the day in such high temperatures as they enjoy a break with the King coconuts offered by their family.

John and Janice share some fun as they get close to the end of the day.

One of the traditional fishing boats that was moored offshore in front of the restaurant.

Sunset from the Art Cafe restaurant. We can’t imagine anything more beautiful!

Cathy, Marly, Bev and Cam celebrate their accomplishment at the end of Day one.

Team 1 lays their first row of bricks for their latrine.

Team 2, Marly, Cameron, Bev and Cathy do the conga line to move bricks closer to the walls. It’s amazing how much faster the project progresses with some Cooperative effort.

Mr. Cheng lays the stone foundation for latrine wall.

Day 10: Sights and Sounds

Day 10 has arrived, we continue to have hot humid weather. This does not stop us from moving forward in our commitment to get the two latrines completed.

The most favourite part of the day for me is our leisurely drive from Kep to Chamcar bei. This drive allows me to reflect about the people, their culture and the land. We drive through a very rural area. It is a very beautiful drive where we are able to see many fields of rice that go on for ever, until the land meets the sky. There are many shades of green on the landscape.
Many of the people have been up for quite a few hours already, getting ready for the day. We see washing on the fences, kids and other family members have been sent off or taken to school and to work. We see many stalls, where people sell everything you can imagine: gas in recycled pop bottles, parts for mortor cycles, stuffies, stalls that have a variety of goods such as candy, pop, food,( fresh and package), stalls that sell wood or maybe someone needs to buy a shrine or plants for their yard. We travel a narrow paved road, where we see many interesting sites, people doubled up or maybe there are two parents with their .little child between them, on the way to some place important. There are many motor bikes and they can be used to carry two large baskets for either mangos, coconuts rice etc. Some of the bikes have flat beds attached to them with a variety of goods going to a variety of places.

Then we have the version of Mickey dees Cambodian style, many vendors that are selling food for the morning people on their way to work.

So back to the other vision of the quiet essence of the green fields, cows grazing, sleeping dogs in front yards, as they have done their duty by waking everyone up early along with the roosters.

The sounds and the sights along the way are very calming and each day I see something new. I notice a field I did not see before or a house or vendor that is selling something different.

After our peaceful drive we arrive at our two sites and are greeted by happy faces that are so welcoming.

We were able to parge both latrines inside and out. Then we were able to apply the smooth coat that went over our parging.

I look forward to our morning drive, to see what I did not see in the days before.

Marly, DWC Volunteer

Spider-Man is there to greet us and provides us with much entertainment.

English lesson with Stephanie.

The parge champs.

Day 11: Rural Living

The day started with both teams working on the latrine floors. The first layer was dirt , then rocks, sand, and water. The next step was breaking up of the rocks. Our mason tampered the rocks into place. By the end of the day, both teams had almost completed the latrines.

As the latrine was being built the families around us continued their normal routine. We had spider man and a young man taking his afternoon bath. Surrounding us while we worked were dogs, cows, ducks, a kitten,birds, roosters, and chickens.

The lovely Sophia brought us many treats. We had caramelized sweet potatoes, bananas, and corn all of which were from her garden.

We took a stroll down a dirt road. A little boy we had met previously joined us on our walk. He had started a friendship with Stephanie earlier. He quickly taught his friend a new rock game. Along the way we had an opportunity to see rural living. From cows tethered near the road to mango trees waiting to harvest , it was an interesting and unique experience.

At the end of our day of parging, we were elated as another latrine was almost done.

Stephanie, Bev and Twyla, DWC Volunteers

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