It’s hard to believe that in four short days 17 young men had built a house. One lonely brick wall standing as tall as our shins was all that stood on this site before we took over. All in all, I’d say the boys shifted almost 10 cubic meters of sand, 4 cubic meters of stone and mixed almost 30 bags of cement. All this in stifling heat and in a country that doesn’t speak English. The teamwork was a sight to watch as the silent leaders started to emerge from the group. Often, in situations like this, I find that it’s the quiet one’s that surprise me with their direction.
A raucous applause rose from the group as the last nail was hammered into the last panel for the wall. The look on the faces of the family members is something that I’ll never forget. Our group also put some of their own money in to help the family and this was able to buy them a desk, for the two young scholarship students to study at, a lamp, some chairs and pillows and blankets. The boys also pitched in to keep the builders onsite for another four days to finish the annex for the kitchen. This house will certainly stand strong and see the boys well past their school years. Hopefully, what they’ve learnt from watching the build will give them enough knowledge to keep up the maintenance, should it need it. In addition to this, their schooling should provide them with the ability to assist the whole community, in a broader sense, once they’ve graduated.
Leaving the site, I reflect on what I was grateful for. I was grateful for the smiling faces of the children nearby and their laughter as it picked up the mood of the whole group. I was grateful for the shade the trees provided during our brief breaks. Lastly, I was grateful for the help of the Cambodian builders. Even though their method was, ‘near enough’s good enough’, the house is built and the family are happy. I know my Dad is reading this so, yes Dad, I will always be using a measuring tape and measuring twice and cutting once. Having a nice clean line to collection of cuts is obviously not something they admire.
I won’t miss the ‘squatty potty’ or the mud or the sound of the chanting. The chanting is something that I have not written about yet and it surprises me that it has not been at the forefront of my thinking as it’s constant throughout the day. From the moment we arrive onsite (8am), till the time we leave (4pm) Buddhist monks chant into loud speakers at the nearby temple. While, initially, this provided an authentic soundscape to the physical environment, pretty shortly after this monotone chanting in a language you can’t understand begin to get to you and I wonder how the local get used to it. Mr Thai tells me that the monks speak of the lessons of life. The chant about the why values are important and what happens to the good people. I’m sure that we’ll visit more temples along our next journey so I won’t say it’s over just yet.
Today, Sunday, all six groups are off to Siem Reap, approximately 5 hours’ drive in a north westerly direction from Kampong Cham. It was a sight for sore eyes as the boys stopped at the convenience store last night to stock up for the trip. The shop attendant didn’t know what hit them when 17 young men stripped the shelves. They can eat! We’ll visit the traditional Cambodian circus tonight and this is run by an NGO supporting orphaned children in the local area. It’s great that the travel company, Rustic Pathways, provide such an authentic experience and each restaurant, store or show in some way or another supports the local community. For example, the Smile restaurant, which was my favourite in Kampong Cham, provides clothing for the children at schools.
The bus trip will provide some much needed rest for the lads and I look forward to our next adventure. I so proud to have been there for the boys as they accomplished this amazing feet. A life changer!
Next stop Siem Reap!