Skip to Content

Wait… I’m not that kind of engineer!

By November 15, 2013

by Paul Baptist, Software Engineer, Australia

Those were the first words I blurted out when our Foundation Manager, Tilly Josephson told me I was going to be leading the building team in Cambodia. You see, when a light bulb needs changing, I get ‘a guy’ to do that! There’s a reason the word software precedes the word engineer in my title.

Lost? Let me back up a little.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining on a volunteering trip to Cambodia. With a team of 24, from across APAC, we were tasked with building a house, setting up a garden and teaching at the local Treak village school.

Treak is a small Cambodian village about 5kms outside of the bustling metropolis that is Siem Reap (home to the beautiful Angkor Wat for the uninitiated). Like most of Cambodia, as soon as you venture outside the main cities, the standard of living drops like a skydiver jumping out of a plain. There are Children, far too young to be doing so, working the paddy fields, homes flooded by the burst river banks and streets so potholed that they could swallow the ever-present water-buffalos whole.

Back to my trepidation about leading the team that was going to build a house;

Fast forward 2 months to October 14 2013 and we’ve just landed in Cambodia. It is hot. I mean, I have a river of sweat flowing down my back. And it is only 7am.

Our job is to build a house for a widow, and her 5 children. The ‘house’ they had been living in could only be called a shack. It was about 10 by 12 feet and had a mud floor that flooded every time it rained. The family slept on a bamboo platform that was 18 inches off the floor.  Something that really affected me, was that it took us only 20 minutes to dismantle.

The original house

Seeing these conditions, I was determined that the team would replace it with something better.  We were told that the fastest house the Volunteer Building Projects Cambodia team had ever built had taken 7 days.  And we were only going to be there for 5. The fact that the math did not add up,  only made us more determined – it was a challenge not an impossibility.

The whole team knew what was ahead of us. With nothing more than the most basic of hand tools, we worked hard. 

And in two days, the house frame was up.

The frame of the house goes up

In three days, the house had a roof.


In four days, it had walls.

Almost ready to move in

On the fifth day the family moved in.

The team on day 5

Looking back, this was one of the best experiences of my life. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely. The joy in the faces of the widow and her children, was something I will never forget.

So come to think of it, I guess I am that kind of engineer?

And just possibly, so are you. So my message here is, if you want to make a difference take advantage of the 6 days of volunteering leave granted to all employees or volunteer with a local nonprofit an make a difference in your local community.

To learn more about our programs in APAC, contact Foundation Manager, Tilly Josephson. [email protected]