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Duggo's Cambodia travel diary: House-building

Up with the sun on Sunday morning, we got stuck into our breakfast at the hotel as we knew it was going to be a long day ahead. Once everyone had loaded up, we got our bags together and jumped on the mini-vans and headed for the rural Cambodian province of Kampong Speu.          

It was long drive, about two and a half hours from Phnom Penh, but everyone was in great spirits as we knew what we were about to do would make a difference to a huge number of people here. Unfortunately, the weather was atrocious. Heavy rains smashed the area and seemed to get worse as we drew closer to our destination. It did make things a little cooler for everyone, which was a plus, but it made things harder on the build.

Our mission was to build 20 houses for the people in the village, we knew that finishing a house would increase the children of the families’ chances of finishing school by around 70%, so there was plenty of incentive to get in there and do a good job.

Then it was into it, our aim was to finish 12 houses on day one, and finish off the last eight on day two. First we knocked the nails into the floors of six houses then we split into teams. One team continued the floors, while the rest of us concentrated on putting up the walls of each home. One by one, in teams of four to six, we worked away under the intense Cambodian rain, which made it tough work!

I was quick to appoint myself as site manager, as I thought my experience in my backyard qualified me to do so, I felt the boys needed a little guidance. The local builders helped us with those hard to reach places, or the ones that the boys with a fear of heights couldn’t get to!

At lunchtime on day one, we’d finished 6 houses, half way there. Not a bad effort we thought, but we still had plenty of work to do. For lunch we feasted on fresh baguettes and tried to stay out of the rain!

Then it was time to get back into it, by mid-afternoon everyone had built up a good synergy. The floor teams were flying, and walls were going up everywhere. Once the day had ended, we’d reached our target. 12 homes completed with eight to go on day two, we were all pretty happy with that. We packed up our tools and headed for the Sunshine House orphanage.

Sunshine House is home to over 50 kids aged between four and 17 and is run by Perth dentist Gary Hewett. It was funny when he told us that the only thing that the kids knew was that the “Nic Naitanui people” were coming to visit. Nic Nat’s reach is endless!

We showered, ate and prepared ourselves for the night’s main attraction, the concert. We were treated to traditional dances by the children, before taking to the stage ourselves to put on some performances. Paul Morrison, the club’s chaplain, kicked things off singing his songs ‘Picking up the pieces’ and ‘Cambodia’. Then some of the kids gave us their chicken dance, it was so good in fact we all joined them on stage for a bit of fun. Then we gave them our best Macarena to finish. None of us have stage careers beckoning, but we had a great time.

When we woke up the next day we had a volleyball game to play. We were playing some of the older children from Sunshine House, and watching them warm up it was easy to see why volleyball is one of Cambodia’s most popular sports! As is always the case, we won the first set, and felt confident, but the boys rose to another level and won the final two sets to claim the trophy. Every time they lull us into a false sense of confidence giving us the first set, then crush our spirits to claim victory. That’s four trips to Sunshine House and no wins- they’re too good!

Then we said our goodbyes before we got back on the mini vans and headed back to the village to complete the build. By now we knew what we were doing so it didn’t take us too long to finish off the houses, the weather was a bit nicer for us this time so it made things a bit easier! By lunchtime on day two we were done. Then we held a handover ceremony for the families of the village, and presented each family with a blanket as a gesture of thanks for allowing us the privilege of building for them. We got a big group photo and then packed up and moved away, allowing them to settle into their new homes quickly.

We learned a lot on this trip, about ourselves, about each other, but most of all we found out more about the beautiful people of Cambodia and the resilience they’ve shown to overcome what was a terrible time under the Pol Pot regime.

A big thank you must go to Airbnb, the official partner of Cambodia 2017, who has given us the opportunity to come here and provide these families with new homes. Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible.