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A Day in the Life – An EWB Field Professional experience in Phnom Penh – Part 2

By Lachlan Guthrie – originally published on his blog. 

The last few weeks have been really exciting, getting really stuck into my work at RainWater Cambodia and heading out to a number of sites already. I spent six days on field trips out of Phnom Pehn which were really eye-opening and gave me a good insight into what I have in store for me.

Factory in Takeo

The first time I went out to site was to a small factory in Takeo province, about 90 minutes from Phnom Pehn. The factory is owned by a small NGO. They train and provide a market for villagers to dye, weave and sell items for the clothing industry. On the way out we were stopped at a police roadblock, I’m sure this will be mentioned in a future blog.

Rice fields in rural Takeo

This job presented me with many challenges.  Right from the start of the day I realised that communication was going to be a major issue. I did not know who our client was (we were actually sub-contractors on this job), I didn’t exactly know what we had said we would provide, and I had not yet met my colleague who I would be working with, and he couldn’t speak fluent English.

From what I had been able to gather from my colleague we were going to install gutters, but when we got to site we saw that there were already gutters installed. The question of ‘What are we meant to do now?’ was really difficult to resolve because my colleague and I didn’t know who we had submitted the quote to or how much we should offer the guy from the NGO. In the end, I was able to resolve these things with a few phone calls and on-site discussions and develop a simple technical solution to divert the overflow into an existing reservoir.

When I took my solution back to the office, I could not work out why nobody thought it was a good idea. Water engineering is pretty simple sometimes because water pretty much flows downhill so I had no idea what I was missing. It was only by sitting down with my colleague and completing a full assessment, that I saw the missing piece of the puzzle that showed me the flaw in my plan (that they had such high demand they probably didn’t have any overflow).

Campground in Kep

Recently I also got a great opportunity for more work experience with a mission called Alongsiders, I’m sure these guys will feature a bit more in future blogs (find out more here). I was able to use my engineering “skills” to assist them with a drainage plan for a campground in Kep, about 3 hours from Phnom Pehn. It was great to be able to help out such a good mission.

On this trip I worked a lot with a local builder and I learnt so much exchanging information with him, both communication methods and the actual information. I’ve always believed that you can learn so much by walking around a site with someone, and that’s exactly what happened here. But to be honest the main reason I included this post was because of the amazing photo, you should see it at sunset.

View from the top of Shalom Valley

I had four learnings from these trips. 1) Take things as they come, lose the expectation of how you think things should work. 2) Investigate, get out to site and walk around, see things how they really are. 3) Communication issues are everywhere, not just with Khmer. 4) Persist with an idea, be patient in finding out more information but always be open to the (strong) possibility that you might be wrong.