The Final Day

Well an absolutely amazing experience has come to an end.  At various times it was back breaking, inspiring, breathtaking and enlightening. Overall the experience is only as good as the people involved and we were definitely blessed with some of the best volunteers you could ask for.

The team from Arap (Marinna, Jeremy, Kelin, Jeewei, Archi and Kira) were amazing and perfectly represented the company and its philosophical approach to business.  Jeewei is also an amazing filmmaker – evidenced by the YouTube video she put together!
Topped off with a fantastic group of ‘randoms’ who we quickly adopted into the group (Grant, Haley, Maria, Alice and Iris).  It takes a lot of courage to participate in a project like this on your own, but these are exceptional people and we were delighted to meet them.

Of course there’s always an open invitation to visit us in Adelaide!

Hope you all have a safe trip home.

Eric, Von and the rest of the Habitat crew in Cambodia made it such an enjoyable time and we appreciated everything they did to make the project run as smoothly as it did (we’ve also got a couple of card games to bring back with us).

Finally, to our friends and family who supported us so eagerly we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

All this combined to enable the six of us to participate on what we consider to be a life changing experience, and we are forever grateful.


Build Day 5

Our final day on the build and with a tinge of sadness we got to the build site knowing that we only had half a day of work left – so we got to work.

Here Archi and Tom are modelling the latest look – the blue shirt/scarf combination 

The build was coming along nicely – we had set the target of reaching the concrete beam stage of all three houses, and we managed to fill the formwork with concrete on the third house (after tying some more reo columns with wire) just before we had to get cleaned-up.

Eric gathered us in the marquee and we sat down with the families, before gathering outside the houses for the ribbon cutting and handing over the ceremonial key.

Then we returned to the marquee and had the opportunity to thank everyone involved, provide the families with some gifts, and individually pass on our wishes.  The families then also got the opportunity to say a few words – the dust on site must have been particularly high as there wasn’t too many dry eyes.

During the speeches we heard a bell out on the street and Maria asked the parents if the kids could have an icecream – the look on the kids faces was absolutely priceless.

The party then got started as Eric turned up the music and we joined the families and skilled workers in turning the site into a dance party.  One of the mums taught us to do the ‘Shake Your Heel’ to this song  This was made even more fun when we were given handfuls of baby powder and told to smear it on each other’s faces as part of the ceremony (we also smelled nicer than we had in days).

We were told that it’s not custom in Cambodian culture for physical contact – so we were stunned by the hugs from the families and skilled workers as we said our goodbyes (must have been high dust levels again too!). It was the perfect way to close out the build Day.

Back to the hotel (to wash off all the baby powder), the buses then took us up to the bat caves.  Here we jumped on the back of motorbikes (our families and insurance company have probably passed out by now) and road up to the temple on top of the mountain.

The temple and view were stunning – as were the caves.  Unfortunately it’s history isn’t as pleasant and it was the site of a huge number of Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Mike Sweeney’s driver was a great guide – he also managed to overtake other bikes, while talking on his mobile phone and giving Mike a Khmer lesson.

The bat caves (living up to their name) are home to thousands and thousands of bats and at sunset they leave the cave in droves.  We took our seats and watched the spectacle.

Our final Battambang dinner was bitter sweet as we knew we would be saying goodbye to our friends soon.

The emotion or the heat must have started to get to Eddie

Build Day 4

We had an opportunity for a quick morning walk around Battambang to see the sights.

Including finding the odd funny sign.

Eric organised a visit to the markets to visit the stalls of the families we had met the previous day.  It was great to see their reactions when they recognised us.  Even when some of the fresh food wasn’t to our taste.

Some of the clothing was not to our taste either (dress reads ‘No Money, No Honey’)

From the markets we headed to the build site – crossing paths with a bike that may have been carrying our lunch, given the amount of food that is provided.

At the end of our morning briefing we also sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Rita!  We were honoured she chose to spend her birthday with us.

We were advised that we would need to hold up on the build while the skilled workers adjusted the scaffolding and set the formwork for the concrete poor.  So instead we helped set the door for the house:

An empty site near our build was also being prepared for a build, so we had the opportunity to watch the blessing ceremony.

Archi and Rita made a cute new friend

Eric organised a sing-along at lunch – and be warned, anyone on the build could randomly clap along and call out ‘Arapiya’ at any time for the next few weeks.  If you want to join in, the music is at

We then had another card game – with the loser having their face drawn on.  Unfortunately for Eric, he was terrible at it so ended up with a lot of ink on his face – although Kelin and Maria got caught up as well.

We finished by getting another concrete human chain going to fill the formwork on top of the walls.  This was another ‘many hands make light work moment’ – we’re fortunate to be part of the build with the awesome Arup team as well as an amazing team of individuals (lovingly referred to as ‘The Randoms’).

After zipping back to the hotel to clean up (what a good looking bunch once you have removed the concrete dust!)

We hopped in the buses and headed out to see a Cambodian circus – with a side trip to see an artists gallery on site

The circus was phenomenal with acrobats, dancers and musicians sharing the stage and keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.  At the risk of filling this page with hundreds of circus photos, here’s a small sample.

Of course you may remember at the start of this day that it was Rita’s Birthday – and Mike Levy and Eric teamed up to make sure the performers were aware of this.

This capped off another great day.

Build Day Three

After a morning Team Lee Green shot


We got straight back to business.  At the brickyard, first job of the day was to load bricks into the truck.  It’s during times like this you really notice the impact of working together as a team – and how extra resources provided by the volunteers are invaluable to getting the job done.

Meanwhile back at the build site, things were moving along smoothly and the bricklaying team were using concrete as fast as we could mix it.


We were grateful for the marquee supplied by a previous build team to keep us (and the concrete mix) out of the sun.


Von was introduced to us as our translator (something he did a fantastic job at) – but he also worked extremely hard on the build….and a super nice guy!


As the house is bound by a road on one side you see many things passing by…..couldn’t explain the design behind this one.


At the end of the building day Eric organised for us to visit the current houses of the families who are moving into the ones we’re building.  We were immediately impacted by the level of poverty.

In almost equal measures we were also stunned by the level of warmth and hospitality of the families.  We find it hard to fathom the level of difficulty faced by these people on a daily basis.  The fact that the site floods every year (for up to a month during the wet) and the parents carry their kids on their backs to stay dry while getting them from the house to the road.  The kids also had typhoid and diphtheria when small – so the parents struggle to keep their houses clean and avoid any further infection.  As a guide, the water mark on the wall is the flood level – and that’s an adult bike for reference.



The land on which they built their house belong to the state and due to a road widening and service upgrade project, they are losing them after 10 years.



After a pretty solemn bus ride, we also had the opportunity to look through some early 1900’s houses.


And then we dodged the bugs on the way to dinner.


Build Day Two



It was “Build Like a Pirate Day” on the site – or at least it looked like that….


We’ve become quite attached to our scarves.  They are great for keeping the sun off your neck and sweat out of your eyes.

First up today was concrete mixing.  After a master class from Maria on getting the right mix, we got into it – making one batch for pouring into the bricks and another with stones for the formwork.

Of course for concrete you need water.  After being advised that it was the right thing to do, Mike Levy volunteered to step ankle deep into the creek and collect the water….only to be told later that the water pump and hose were in fine working order.


Here it’s probably worth looking at the anatomy of the bricks we’re using.


They look a lot like a lego brick.  The square holes are filled with cement mix to join them together and the the two square notches on each end make additional square holes (which are also filled with cement) when they are joined with another brick.  Fascinating stuff!  When enough bricks are joined, Pink Floyd told us they make a wall.

Iris and Kira have also worked out how to combine Yoga with the build.

The food on site has been fantastic and we are well catered for – including some things you don’t get much at home including Papaya, Mangosteen and Little Birds.  We’re not exactly sure what bird the little bird is, but it tastes like quail.

Eric also took the opportunity during lunch to show us a couple of games.  First up with a card game called spoons – as soon as you get four of a kind you stick your tongue out, and the last to do so loses.  Rita was a champion at this.


Next game was “Cops and Robbers” with scarves.  The “Cops” scarves have one knot, and the “Robbers” scarves have two – you need to work around the circle tying and untying the scarves until the cops catch the robbers.  After losing the two rounds, Haley and Mike S gave an entertaining performance of the the Chicken Dance.


Next up we need to make Reo bar columns for the corners of the houses.  It’s fiddly work which the skilled workers seem to zip through, but which the volunteers struggled through.

But any day you can finish by drinking from a coconut is a good day!


Unless of course you are still hungry after dinner and crickets are on the menu.






Build Day One

Finally the time had arrived to get started on the build.  After breakfast in the hotel we met in the lobby, then onto buses for the 10 min drive to the site.


Battambang is much bigger than many of us realised and on the way to the site we pass the local university and institute of technology.  The city also makes great use of its roundabouts and many have large statues in their centre.


Or we could show the photo Tom took from the bus which looked something like this…


Shortly after arriving at the site we had a briefing session which gave us a chance to hear from the families who will be moving into the houses – and at the same time give Jeremy a chance to pass on our appreciation to the families.


This was followed by a quick orientation of the site (code for “finding out where the toilets are”) and we were ready to get started.


We were advised that we would be working mainly on two houses – both which are very close together.  The team were soon into the swing of mixing cement and concrete and bricklaying.  The house design is functionally basic, with one large room for living/sleeping and a bathroom.  We learned during our briefing session the day before that one of the families had five children so it would definitely be a bit of a squeeze.  The local children are regular visitors to the site and seem to be having a ball!

Some of the team also volunteered to travel by bus to the brickyard to help make the mud bricks.

The brick making process involved shovelling buckets full of clay sand onto a sifting table.  The sifted sand is then placed into buckets, cement and water are added before the mixture is pressed into a mould.  The wet bricks are then stored for one week under cover, then three weeks in the sun (wet regularly to help harden).  This is the finished product…


Lunch was a welcome break from the heat….


…but we were back at it again for the afternoon.

After finishing off for the day, we got back in the buses and rode out to the Bamboo Train.  The train uses a part of the old line from Phnom Penh to the Thai border and has overcome the issue of having two way traffic on a single track by having the trains able to be disassembled.  Each time two opposing trains meet on the track, the one with the fewer people is removed from the track and then reassembled once the other train has passed.  It’s a lot of fun.


On the road

Breakfast in the hotel was great and gave us the chance to check out some local fruit including rambutan.  No one told Tom he was supposed to eat them…

We then hopped in the ‘Big Yellow Bus’ for the   3.5 hour trip to Battambang.
After clearing the city, the region quickly got very rural and we travelled alongside a number of large rice paddies and very large scale rice processing plants.


The ride was pretty uneventful, so it gives us a chance to comment on Cambodia traffic.  Since being here we’ve heard it described by a number of expletives – but the one description that seems to sum it up is “organised madness”.  Cambodians drive on the right hand side of the road – or at least we think we do as that’s where they spend slightly more than 50% of the driving time.  A lot of the rest of the time is spent in the “middle lane” – which is miraculously squeezed over the centre dividing line.  To drive in the middle lane all you need is a polite “beep” of your horn (to let the other vehicles know that you are slipping by), then you’re on your way.  Somehow, it seems to work with cars, buses, tuk-tuks, bicycles and pedestrians all sharing the road without incident.

We arrived in Battambang and checked into the King Fy hotel – an impressive, colourful building by the river.


Eric organised lunch at a nearby hotel and we were given the afternoon free.  A group of us wandered through the city streets, scoping out the shopping before eventually finishing at a roof top bar with a great view of the area.

Another group decided to iron out the knots from several days of travelling with a massage and headed off on a tuk-tuk.  Depending on your point-of-view, the description of the massage was either a great way to prepare for the manual labour of the week ahead…..or a medieval torture technique.  Here’s the photo of Haley for you to decide:


We congregated back at the Sky Bar at the hotel to swap stories before heading down to Eric’s orientation briefing.


The orientation briefing was a great way to get a better understanding of the build, a quick lesson in very basic Khmer and a step-by-step introduction to tying a scarf (which we’ve all now been given).

Full of anticipation we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner (the meals have been outstanding!) before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our first build day.