Cambodia October 2023 October 10, 2023

Posted in on October 10, 2023

DWC volunteers at work in Cambodia

Day 1

We were all excited to finally start the build we had been dreaming about for months!  We learned that as the river rises, the road of the dry season becomes the river of floating and stilt houses, so part of our journey was by boat!

But sometimes things don’t go as planned…

We ended up at a standstill—because the power went out and we needed power tools for the next stage, drills, and saws—reciprocating and circular. At first, we were a bit despondent at this sudden disruption of our plans—but I’m sure you know the saying about lemons! So, we went about making lemonade!!

DWC volunteers Cambodia taking a break

We tried new foods!

We saw the house where one of our families currently live—yes, the tiny fixed home that is already in danger of flooding causing them to move out—this year and every year!

Children in Cambodia at project site

So sometimes when things don’t exactly go as planned, they pan out just perfectly!!

Wednesday October 11

DWC volunteers discussing personal Hygiene with students Cambodia

AM – Half of us visited a rural school for poor children. Some kids walk 10k to get here which is insane. Both boys and girls (aged 14-15) were taught today about reproduction, the menstrual cycle, health, hygiene, self defence, and human trafficking. It was amazing to see how engaged and willing to learn the kids were, and the teachers were so passionate about educating them.

DWC volunteer discussing personal Hygiene with students Cambodia

Most parents cannot afford to buy their children sanitary products and there isn’t a lot of education around periods in Cambodia. The Cambodia Rural Students Trust create reusable menstrual kits for girls, which last them 3-4 years. DWC funded 220 kits and we were able to give one to every girl in the school today. Never seen children so happy and grateful – and the boys were really respectful too.

PM – After we visited the school, we worked on the mainland where we cut A LOT of wood😅 Wood had to be picked up and moved, put through the chipper, passed down the bank and then onto the boat, ready to be sent over to the area we’re building on. This process took us around 3 hours, not including half the team who already started the work whilst we spent the morning at the school!

Thursday October 12

Today was our toughest and longest day on the work site so far, but we accomplished so much. We took the floor from a simple frame to completing the full flooring support structure on both houses. Dozens of support beams held in place by  well over 250 metal rods, bolts, and nails per house. We were proud of our progress today, as you can see from the tired yet still smiling faces from our end of day group photo.

The power of the rainy season was evident today by two things: the now flooded house of one of the families we are building a home for (it was on dry land 2 days ago) and the torrential downpour that hit us two minutes after we finished for the day.

We were all treated to a Cambodia beer at the end of the day – a perfect ending to a beyond successful day!

Friday October 13

By Sandy

Heading to the job site, we stopped off at the Amazon café and had a delicious coffee. Superhero’s frequent there too!

We met up with a herd of water buffalo on their way home from a wonderful morning mud bath!

After the boat ride which takes a little longer each day because of the rising water, we arrived at the job site. We got right to work collecting our equipment; the guys kindly put up two tarps, one over each house, so we would have some relief from the sun, which blazes down most of the day.

Half the group was organized to sand the edges of the floorboards, the other half got to work nailing the floor boards to the structure. By lunchtime, we had most of the boards sanded and half of the floor of one home done.

Today was the beginning of a religious festival and celebration so there was lots of loud music, singing, and dancing (Chloe and Johann took part in the dancing!!) Lunch as always was delicious, and Paren gave us some samples of chicken wings being prepared for the celebration.

Superhero characters Cambodia

After lunch it was back to work. We hoped to have both floors completed by the end of the day but unfortunately only managed to get one and a half done. Despite not quite getting the job finished, we all celebrated with a well-deserved beer at the job site. It had been another hard long, amazing day of work. Once again, we were tired and dirty but happy!

After a lovely long shower back at our hotel, we rented some tuk tuks and headed out to the Kumer Grill for dinner—including frogs and red ants!!!

It’s so difficult to believe we are already half way through our trip! Now we have two days off—and we intend to make the most of them!!

Saturday October 14

On Saturday morning four of us jumped into a tuk tuk and headed to the Apopo centre—an incredible museum which documents the history and training of rats to locate land mines and unexplored devices. We learned that a single rat can clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes; in contrast to a metal detector which would take four days to clear a similar size area. The rats are taken out at 4am and work until 9am—did I mention they need sun screen on their ears and tails to prevent sun burn?? We all got to hold a rat! They are very large—and true heroes saving lives!

In the afternoon, our amazing host Paren, took us to the Angkor museum—a huge building with exhibits covering all the religious history of Cambodia. He later gave us a tour of Siem Reap, and given it was a holiday, the crowds and sights were amazing! We would never have seen so much without Paren’s patience and generosity!!

A DWC trip is important for a number of reasons: it allows us to do something for others; it makes a holiday so much more meaningful, and it feels wonderful to sometimes understand how we can stretch ourselves. But, a DWC trip is not all hard work and getting dirty!! Last Monday evening, we headed out to The Cambodian Circus. A high energy acrobatics show that at times left us breathless!! While the artists were the stars of the show, it was the amazing street market food that was a crowd pleaser!! It was actually so good, our whole troupe of food photographers forgot to take any photos!!!🤷🏼‍♀️

Sunday October 15

DWC group photo on top of mountain Cambodia

Today was both long and spectacular!! Again, Paren was so amazing nursing the van up Kulan mountain on the almost seemingly impassable road full of ruts and mud! Traffic may only go up the mountain in the morning, and comes down in the afternoon.

We saw the world’s largest reclining Buddha at the top of the mountain and were awed by the spectacular views. We had a fantastic lunch in a local restaurant including coconut milk served in the 🥥 ! After lunch we hiked to the famed Kulan falls—truly spectacular fall [how many feet high]. No Canadian rules here about not getting too close!! The whole experience was amazing!! After we all dried off and headed out to another incredible aspect of this mountains, the heavens opened and we were drenched!! Still, under expert guidance, we safely made it to the “cliffs”. With at least 150 feet straight down drop, we posed for a group photo a safe distance from the edges!!

And our day wasn’t over yet!! On the way back to our hotel we stopped at another land mine museum; this one dedicated to the care and education of the hundreds of children who are injured or maimed by these atrocious weapons of war. The founder of the museum and school was on hand and talked to us although the museum was technically closed for the day! Inspiring for all of us who went back to the hotel tired but so grateful for all we have in Canada.

Monday October 16

The team was excited to return to the worksite after a wonderful weekend exploring Siem Reap and beyond. The focus today was twofold – completing the floors and building the wall frames.  Check and check, pending a small amount of remaining wall work. Hammering nails for the floors or tie rods for the wall frames kept us all busy. Chloe learned to use the angle grinder to cut the tie rods – a new skill to add to her ever-growing repertoire of power tool experience.

Lunch, as always, was divine with what we consider world famous spring rolls. We were treated to the gift of even more spring rolls as a late afternoon snack at the end of the work day. Lunch has become a highlight for us everyday! Our comic relief today came from one of the chickens who managed to successfully score half a baguette and ran through the worksite like a bank robber fleeing the scene, tailed by a dozen other chickens and a dog. Definitely not a sight we see at home!

Tuesday October 17

Tuesday was the day we really saw our houses take shape!

We started the day with a visit to the local market to buy a few things for the families who will be moving into their new homes really soon. It was a delight to pick out pillows, mats, and blankets! We were also able to add some cooking supplies and food staples such as rice. We are so grateful to be able to make this happen!! Then it was on to the building site.

We framed the outside walls while the local carpenters framed the roof. Then began the job of nailing the corrugated aluminum panels to the walls. It wasn’t an easy job but the team was up to the challenge!! Those not putting up the panels, started framing the second house. By end of day, we were pleased to see our progress. Too tired to visit a market after work we went back to the hotel to shower and change before heading out to the Haven restaurant—a recommendation from the previous team. This training restaurant did not disappoint! The food was delicious and the service wonderful and it felt good to be eating and making a difference.

Another wonderful and fulfilling day!

Wednesday October 18

DWC floating home nears completion Cambodia

It’s official – we rocked it on the worksite today. We took the two houses to the point of completion pending some final work required by the local crew. The roof and walls are now complete on the second house, and we added a wonderful splash of colour to the front of each house with blue pillars and trim. Our houses are becoming homes!  Hammering the roofing nails into the wall siding was a frustrating task at times due to such hard wood full of knots, but we persevered with the end goal of finishing the house motivating us all. The switch to painting the beautiful blue trim at the end of the day was a welcome change! 

On our drive back to Siem Reap we had the opportunity to pick up a few items such as soccer balls for the school where we will be painting tomorrow.   We also had a few laughs on the drive due to some very unique “traffic” sharing the road with us!

Pig in a cart Cambodia

Thursday October 19

DWC volunteers painting school classroom Philippines

Today (Thursday) was a complete change of scene. We headed out to a local school in the same area as the build to paint a classroom: inside and out! It was quite the job with very high ceilings and four coats of paint needed to cover up five years of use. DWC previously painted this classroom pre Covid. But once the main walls were dry, Sandy drew out a mural—a request from the school, Johan started on the outside and the rest of us tackled the murals!

Artists we are not, but we managed to get quite a bit done. We are headed back there today (our last day) to finish it off. Covered in paint we headed back to the hotel in high spirits. A quick shower and out to the touristy section of town, Pub Street. We are at The Red Piano, a recommendation from Paren, which was great, then a shopping spree at the night market, then back to the hotel! Another amazing day. Tough to realize tomorrow is our last day 😢

Friday October 20


Our DWC team goes by the official title of CMB1023, yet that simple moniker cannot describe the depth of our experience building floating houses in Cambodia. Our experience went far beyond the often-oppressive heat, unyielding nails and having to sand uneven warped boards.

There are few of us who are lucky enough to experience something that moves us exponentially, possibly making us more compassionate, deeply grateful people.

As a group, we watched the houses of the families we were building for slowly sink and become unliveable. Both families had moved out of their old homes due to the rising water as they had to every rainy season.

On Friday, all our hard work came together!

We completed our work at the school and left proud to have made a difference! The classroom now looks bright and cheerful—inside and out—with delightful murals then we headed back to our build area for lunch and for the most exciting part of our trip—the launching of “our” houses!

With the help of almost every man in the village, the houses were wrested onto 14 large barrels each and floated into the river. Once launched the families took possession, inviting us aboard with the village elder for a short ceremony. Suffice to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in either house! That included the families and us, the building team.

We have done it! We reached our self determined goal of two houses built and one school classroom painted and decorated. Exhausted and exhilarated, we went back to our hotel—everyone of us deeply introspective. We showered and then headed out to a wonderful restaurant for a final dinner to laugh and celebrate our success, but mostly to thank our wonderful partner Paren who was a patient and kind partner throughout.

It is difficult to put into words what this trip meant to each of us, but we do know we’ll be looking for another opportunity to take a DWC trip again in the near future.

Posted in on October 10, 2023