Archive for March, 2014

Thursday

Posted: March 28, 2014 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2014
Tags: , , , ,

Big news, we’re now building for a family of 5! Mom was MIA for a day, and has given birth to a healthy baby boy at the local hospital (babies are not given a name immediately here, so we’ll just have to call him baby for now). All seems to be well, but this does mean that we now have a newborn and a recovering mother in the middle of a busy building site. Of course there’s not much we can do about that at the moment, except for working hard on getting the house finished, so that’s what we’ve been doing.

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Once the school figured out that the project was fine with girls at the building site, and the project figured out that the school was fine with the girls building (it seems that the hired tour guides/interpreters weren’t used to girls building), it turned out that the Korean girls were also quite keen on getting involved in the building process. After putting up the frame on Wednesday it was time to get started on the floor and finish up the bamboo and palm leaf walls.

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It seems we weren’t the only ones that were a bit dissatisfied with the building process on Wednesday, the teachers have decided to step back from the building itself, and to focus more on motivating the students/keeping them busy/out of trouble (“stop playing around with that machete!”). While the students took turns working on the floor and the walls (no one likes making these walls), we decided to find our own project for the day, and ended up making the door and the shutter for the window. Both are made of a wooden frame covered with a thin layer of plywood. Once the inside wall is in place we will be able to put them in place.

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Just outside of Treak village.

Just outside of Treak village.

Remember this house? We helped build it three years ago.

Remember this house? We helped build it three years ago.

The family living in our 2011 build.

The family living in our 2011 build. They seem to be doing well.

How to fix rural roads.

How to fix rural roads.

Maybe this is why our internet is so flipfloppy?

Maybe this is why our internet is so flipfloppy?

Workplace injury.

Workplace injury.

Well, that went a bit different than expected. After doing the prep work for two days the Korean back up team showed up on Wednesday. We had high expectations of a group of well organized Koreans ready to step in, the reality was a bit different though…

One day, you’re out there building a house, the next, you get overrun by a dozen moping teenagers who radiate that they do not actually want to be there and drag their feet. Sound a bit harsh, but hey, we should have known. Teenagers, or more precisely fourteen-year-olds city kids on a school trip in a third world country.

Of course, after a while they did manage to get some work done, but we had a bit of a hard time with it, as we’re here to work hard and doing our best to get this house built within a week. We hadn’t planned on having to instruct and motivate the kids, or on how much they would slow the build down (which meant that local workers had to finish parts of the projects in the afternoon heat, which could have easily been done in the morning under different circumstances), and with less tools than people there was frustration all around.

At the end of the day it is groups like this that fund the bigger part of the project in the long term. So we realize it’s a good thing they’re coming out here. But on a personal level, had we known the group was coming, and how it would have turned out, we would have planned to come in at a different time. There’s about fifty kids here at the moment (but only boys on the building site*), and though they have little experience, and very differing levels of eagerness, the good news is that it seems like we are going to be finishing the house in time. So that’s good.

Here’s some pictures of the progress we made on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Prepping of the stairs.

Prepping of the stairs.

This was what the chiseling was all about.

This was what the chiseling was all about.

Recycling nails means getting them out first.

Recycling nails means getting them out first.

Putting the frames together.

Putting the frames together.

Before putting the frames up there's a blessing by one of the local monks, to ensure good luck.

Before putting the frames up there’s a blessing by one of the local monks, to ensure good luck.

Part of the house blessing: building money into the structure brings prosperity.

Part of the house blessing: building money into the structure brings prosperity.

Raising one of the frames.

Raising of the first frame.

Those little facemasks did not last long in 40 degrees celsius.

Those little face masks did not last long in 40 degrees Celsius.

Oops! We forgot to chisel one of the parts out.

Oops! We forgot to chisel one of the parts out.

Kylie instructing Koreans on the proper use of machetes

Kylie instructing Koreans on the proper use of machetes.

* As a side note, it turns out that there’s girls and boys here on the school trip, but that a lot of assuming by different people has lead to only boys on the building site.

Though building the outhouse last week was fun, and the receiving family was happy with our efforts, we were a bit disappointed in the amount of work that needed to be done. We shouldn’t have been so quick to complain though, this week we’re aiming to build a completely new house by Friday afternoon. And to help us accomplish that we’ve got a back up team in place! This Wednesday a group of 18 Korean high school students with unknown English and/or building skills will be joining our team. This is either going to be really interesting, or really hilarious…. we’re hoping on both.

For now we’re working with two Khmer colleagues (Mr Sinn and Mr Buntheun) and two Australian colleagues (Jason and Marj). Because we’re trying to get as much prep work done as possible before the Koreans arrive we’ve changed our schedule to leave the guesthouse at 7 AM. We arrived at the building site at 7.30 AM this morning and met the family we’ll be building for, which consists of a heavily pregnant mom, a dad and two little girls.

The old house

The old house

Once again the house they had been living in wasn’t much more than a shack, the outer walls consisting of a few bamboo posts and tarps. After moving out the family’s belongings we started demolishing the shack. The quality of the materials used is too low for us to be using it in the new structure, but we’ve set the different parts of the house aside so the family can reuse them as they please, if only for firewood. By 8.30 AM the old house had been demolished. One thing that stood out was that although the state of this house was such that it would probably be illegal to hold chickens in it in the First world, it was not half as bad as the one we replaced three years ago. Apparently, the strategy of “worst first” that the organisation uses is bearing fruit.

Building the frame.

Building the frame.

Then came the familiar building of the working structure. As we’re going to be doing quite some sawing, hacking, chiseling and measuring these coming days we’ve built a temporary platform which will serve as a workbench, on which we can prepare the wood.  Unlike last time we’re working with round wooden beams (instead of rectangular ones) which makes the work a bit more complicated. Imagine 6 meter high trees without branches. We spent most of the morning moving the beams, measuring them and cutting them to size. Tomorrow we’ll be measuring some more and chiseling out spaces for the crossbeams upon which the floor will rest.

 

Sawing and measuring

Sawing and measuring

 

Jason and Marj have been working on the stairs, cutting the steps to size and chiseling pieces out to make them lay flat. While Buntheun and the father of the family were busy sorting the concrete pillars on which the wooden posts will rest. At the end of the morning we’d managed to have the groundwork prepared, tomorrow we’ll be doing a lot more measuring and chiseling.

 

 

The huskmobile

The husk mobile.

Also, we had the pleasure of seeing rice being husked with a mobile husking device that had clearly been cobbled together from a number of different machines. The engine from a pump (a hand-cranked 1 cylinder Diesel), undercarriage from a small truck, drive train off of a tractor or so.

As we have only one more day to get all the prep work done before the Korean schoolkids arrive to help us assemble the whole thing, we’ve got our work cut out for us on Tuesday. If everything goes right, we’ll only need to nail it all together in the right order and roof it up, and there’ll be another Cambodian family with a home they can actually call a house.

Cooling off in the swimming pool.

Cooling off in the swimming pool.

How to sum up the last week? First of all, the heat has been singing (35 degrees Celsius and up, we’re really glad to have found a swimming pool to cool off in after work). From the moment you start moving your body is just drenched in sweat. Working in these conditions means drinking at least a litre of water an hour, often supplemented with re-hydration salts.

Up until our last post the building took the following process: rolling prefab concrete rings to the precise location, then digging the hole they have to sink into from within them. Although cramped and clumsy, it is the only way to do it without running the risk of damaging them by lowering them into a hole you dug before.

After that came the bricklaying for the foundations, then cementing that off, filling in the space inside the bricks with dirt and a top layer of broken bricks to raise up the floor to above flood-level, putting the covers on the concrete vessels and pouring a concrete floor.

Supplies!

Supplies!

Along with all the making of concrete and laying of bricks we’ve been building a framework of wooden beams to give the occupant of the privy a little more privacy. Constructing this framework is done a couple of meters away from the foundations, and our Khmer colleague Sinn has the uncanny talent of always picking a nest of red ants for him to work on. Hilarity always ensues, and new dances are discovered. Speaking of dancing, the boys from the local hardware store swung by to bring us more sand and concrete, plus tin roofing and concrete sheets.

On their way out they figured they couldn’t get up a slight rise due to lack of traction on the rear wheels, so the driver tilted the truck bed to shift the weight. He hadn’t thought of notifying his colleagues in the bed of the truck, or about the overhead power lines,  and nearly created a small disaster. Luckily, there were no serious accidents and we could all laugh about it afterwards, but it looked scary at the time.

Cutting concrete is dusty work.

Cutting concrete is dusty work.

The concrete sheets are cut to shape with an angle grinder, which is quite a change for us, as we didn’t have power tools previously due to lack of power (and sometimes skill).  After that they’re nailed to the wooden framework.

So we’ve already come to the end of our first week of volunteering this year and the privy we’ve been building is finished, down to the lock on the door. Now for a weekend of rest, cultural enrichment and some recreation.

The privy is there....

Now for the privacy…. we’ll be working on that tomorrow!

We’re back in the beautiful, and hot, Siem Reap.

The journey here was long and tiring, but we’re happy to be back. Though having pancakes for breakfast in Hong Kong is quite fun, 7 hours of waiting for your connection is ever so boring, no matter how many “exclusive” shops an airport has for you to gawk at. Aside from a few local products you quickly realize you’re seeing nothing new – we saw the a lot of the same stuff waiting for our flight at Schiphol.

When we arrived in Siem Reap last Saturday, the first thing that struck us was how much the city had changed. ‘Airport road’ (Yes, that is actually what the road is called) used to be a wasteland, now it is an unending strip of fancy hotels. Apparently, tourism has doubled over the past three years.

This does not mean that the local rural population has gotten any more wealthy, the incomes the big hotels generate does not trickle down to the poorer people here. Though more hotels does mean more job opportunities for English speaking Khmer in the cities, the rural people are still a long ways away for being eligible for them. Which is one of the reasons why VPO/Que Rico focuses on teaching English.

English class

English class

One of the other things that has changed is the location of the school. Since we were here last it has been moved to a bigger location closer to the village, and now consists of a nursery, three classrooms, a computer room and a library. The clinic that used to be part of the Atvea project has split off. Apparently it is still there and still functional, that’s all that matters as far as we’re concerned.

Book donations
Book donations

We started off our first day of work with a tour of the new school building so we could drop off the collection of books that had been donated (big thanks once again to all the little children who gave them to us!!!) and will be used in the school here.

After that it was time start working. Our first project is building an outhouse for a mother and two kids in the village. The husband/father of the family has run off, which left the mother and children in a run down shack with no source of income. Because she had no sanitary commodities at all, she and her kids were always in danger of contagious diseases. Previous volunteers have built the family a house, we’re building an outhouse that will hopefully alleviate that threat. With the rainy season starting at the end of the month, that is none too soon.

Digging

Digging

We arrived at the house just as the concrete structures were being delivered. After setting them in place it was time to start digging. Digging a hole in the ground for septic tanks is a hard chore under any circumstances, but in 35 degree heat it becomes excruciating. The hole fills up with sweat faster than you can shovel dirt out, by figure of speech. Add to that that we’re working in a cramped up space, inside the concrete structure of the septic tanks, and you can imagine a 4 hour workday is the maximum we can manage. Luckily, that goes for the Cambodians too, so we don’t make total asses of ourselves.

Laying Bricks

Laying Bricks

Today we’ve been keeping ourselves busy with building the foundation for the outhouse, which meant laying bricks around the tank structure. Once the mortar is dry the inside of the brick wall will be filled up with more concrete. If you’re wondering why the tanks and the foundation rise above the surrounding terrain: the top of the tank and the floor have to be above the highest level this piece of land ever flooded to, for obvious hygienic reasons.