Thank you Cambodia

For two weeks I was lucky enough to be a part of the Engineers Without Borders Design Summit trip to Cambodia in July 2019.  We flew into Phnom Penh and learnt all about the history, language, culture and customs of the Cambodian people for the first week of our trip.  This included workshops with a language teacher, a cultural lesson, learning about human centred design and visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and S21 Genocide museum.  The second week of our trip we stayed in remote communities in the Kratie Province to fully immerse ourselves by doing homestays and living with the families.  We formed groups and interviewed people within the community to understand how they live and work.  At the end of the homestay we created an idea to better the community and presented these to the community leaders. 

Before my trip I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to think of what it would be like just in case I would get scared or nervous.  I really wanted to be able to learn something about myself, but I was unsure how I would be able to do this as I didn’t have an itinerary. Looking back now, I am glad that I didn’t have any expectations before the trip as it meant that I was living in the moment and took each day at a time.  I really enjoyed working with lots of different students from all over Australia.

Figure 1: My Group ‘Giant Ibis’ wearing matching Cambodian tops at our Graduation Night

Doing the workshops in Phnom Penh were helpful to be able to understand the country and the Cambodian people as the lessons gave us background to the country. We did workshops with a few Cambodian’s including a language lesson, learning about how to speak the native Cambodian language called Khmer.  This became helpful when we did homestays as the families are not able to speak English.  A second workshop we had was a cultural lesson with a young woman called Lea Phea who taught us the “Do’s and Don’t’s” of Cambodian culture.  She emphasised the importance of family in Cambodian culture and how it is the centre of their lives.  Lea Phea also talked about her life and the impact of the Khmer Rouge on her family and she started crying when she talked about how she doesn’t have any grandparents as they were killed during the genocide and she will never be able to meet them.  I was really upset when I saw her crying in front of us when she was describing how she wants to meet them but never will. 

Figure 2: My group with Lea Phea (in the left corner) after her cultural workshop

An amazing Cambodian woman I met was at the Russian Markets while we were doing an empathetic workshop which involved us talking to strangers and asking them about their lives.  She was running a bag stall at the markets and was very friendly and approachable and talked to us about how she runs her family’s stall every day from 6am to 5pm.  We were astonished and asked her if she has ever thought about going on a holiday and she said no.  Her siblings are all older and married, so she left school at 15 to work at the shop and has been doing so for the past 8 years of her life.  Her aspiration is to study English as her friends are studying at university and don’t have to work every day like her.  Her smile and laugh were so contagious and made me realise that you don’t need to have money to be happy. 

Other workshops we did were on human centred design and taking a strengths-based approach that are helpful when working on an engineering project.  The most impactful part was when we visited the Genocide Museum which was solemn and despairing.  Seeing the torture and death that occurred only 40 years ago was confronting and made me empathise with the Cambodian people. It made me realise that I didn’t know a lot about their history and their culture, but I now have a new appreciation for the country and people.

I stayed at Koh Pdao, a small village on an island along the Mekong River and we stayed with different families within the community and interviewed people to understand their values, strengths and issues in the village to create teams.  It was interesting to be able to talk to the doctor, who was the most well off in the village as he had a flatscreen tv and sent all his children to University.  In comparison, I was staying at the village chief’s home and he had one light bulb and his children were farmers helping him on the rice patty fields.  It was also very intriguing to talk to people who weren’t involved in tourism as they were poorer and unable to send their children to high school as they couldn’t afford buying a bike for them to travel.  My group aimed at getting more of the villagers involved in tourism that are not currently involved.  We created a three day itinerary package for tourists to spend more time and money in the Koh Pdao community with the inclusion of new activities such as ploughing in the rice fields and cooking classes which are aimed to get families who are not currently involved in homestays to participate in tourism to receive another form of income.

Figure 3: My home stay family with myself and my roommate at the front

I learnt a lot about myself, engineering processes and Cambodian culture.  Immersing ourselves within the community proved an invaluable experience as it allowed us to fully understand their needs and lives by sleeping in their homes, ploughing in the rice fields and eating with them. 

I learnt how to take a strengths-based approach which means focusing on the positives of the systems that are currently in place and concentrating on making these better rather than fixing on what it is missing.  Taking this approach allowed us to create a solution that the community would implement, as it is culturally appropriate and builds upon an already existing system.  We realised that tourism has significantly increased the community’s standard of living, but there are still a few families who are not involved, so we wanted to work on this strength so that more people are involved. 

Figure 4: My group after ploughing in the mother and grandfather’s (in the centre) rice patty fields

I have previously taken a human centred approach to engineering projects at university, but not like how we did in Cambodia which was an incredible insight into the importance of talking to all stakeholders rather than focusing on design and ideation.  I learnt the importance of focusing on stakeholders and understanding their needs, wants and concerns.  This proved important as we were able to understand what they wanted rather than what we thought they wanted to change.

The most important key learning experience was understanding and appreciating another culture. Before the trip I didn’t think much of Cambodia as I had not heard of it much.  Living with a Cambodian family and talking to lots of different people allowed me to appreciate their way of living.  I want to be able to apply this when working as an engineer so that I can be more understanding and empathetic with stakeholders.

Figure 5: Me at the front of a temple with offerings of flowers and incense

My plans are still the same, but my motivation, mindset and attitude have changed.  I want to be able to make an impact on the lives of others using biomedical engineering, but I want to impact those that are less fortunate and living in third world countries.  I want to be able to use the humanitarian engineering that I learnt on my trip and apply it to my degree and career to help others.  I want to take a strength-based and human centred approach to my work and personal life as it allows me to understand the stakeholders and their needs much better.  I want to do more travelling and homestays to immerse in different cultures and become empathetic to other cultures and appreciate what I have at home in Australia.

P.S. If you ever have the opportunity to go on a BUILD trip – definitely go for it and apply! Going to Cambodia has to be the most life changing experience I have ever had and I highly recommend everyone to at least apply. You’ll never know what it’s like until you’re there 🙂

Georgia Kirkpatrick-Jones
Bachelor of Engineering (Biomedical)/Diploma of Professional Practice

Applications for the Summer 2019/2020 Engineers Without Borders Cambodia close September 1st 2019. See our database for more information:

My Cambodian Experience

Reflection on contemporary Cambodian culture 

  As I look back on the summer of 2018, the corners of my mouth light up, turning them into a bright smile, reflecting back on the bittersweet memories I made during my time at summer school over at Cambodia.  It was only through the New Columbo Plan and Science Without Borders with the admirable Dr Alison Ung supervising the entirety of this journey that this experience was brought to reality.

    During my trip, I realised a few things about my sheltered and spoilt lifestyle going into a differently cultured country without the guidance of my parents. From my experience living in Australia, people like to go and hang out with friends, or even buy take out after finishing work.  This however wasn’t the norm in Cambodia.  When asking about the night culture to my local friends they explained to me that instead of partying or going out for dinner, Khmer people will go home after school or work and spend time with their families.  Coming from an Asian family, I too understood these values as I also have dinner with my family every night but never realised it when living in the comforts of my social habits until viewing this perspective from a foreigner’s point of view.  The effort from the local students touched me deeply as I realised their sacrifices to make my night a happy memory when they took me out for dinner.

Dinner with friends from PUC
Dinner with my friends Keatleng and Moriz

 However, where there were differences between Western and Eastern cultures, there was also collaboration.  An important example of this intriguing collaboration was the combination of Western and Eastern medicine Khmer people use to treat their patients.  For a part of our program, we spent a small duration of our trip at the University of Health and Sciences of Cambodia.  During my time here, I learnt about the history of Cambodia and how it has affected their future. 

One of the major past events of this country was being colonised by the French.   As a result, some part of the French culture has carried on to the current generations of Cambodian culture, with their teachings of medicine and science not being an exception.  Additionally, Cambodians have also integrated traditional Asian medicine into their treatments with the use of herbal plants.   In doing so, the patient receives treatments from the best of both worlds.  If Western medicine doesn’t help, there is always an alternative with traditional medicine.  As a pre-medicine student, I believe this information is also very valuable as when I become a doctor, I can think of alternatives to other medications (e.g. for kidney or liver failure, I can recommend herbs instead of pills).

Euphorbiaceae is a plant used for cancer treatment in Cambodia

During my studies here, what intrigued me was the structure of tertiary education in Cambodia.  One thing I realised was unlike my experiences at UTS, Buddhism was taught in the curriculum of Pannasastra Univerisity of Cambodia (PUC), the institution I studied in Cambodia.  Currently, it is estimated that up until 2050, approximately 96.9% of the population of Cambodia will be practicing Buddhism (Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 2019). 

A huge constituent of the population of Khmer people practice Buddhism as a way of life.  Because of this, in regards to contemporary Cambodian culture and social aspects, its teachings have slowly impacted and improved most Cambodian lifestyle with education not being an exception.

During my time here, the dean of PUC explained the reasons to me why he decided to include Buddhism into the curriculum.  Teaching me about the genocides and hardships that his beloved country has faced, he told me that the only way he believed that Cambodia can grow is to forgive and move forward.  He said that in order to do this, people have to have faith in something and to have a clear mind, allowing them to be grateful and appreciative for what they currently have.  Many students in Cambodia will have families that have the effects of war and poverty inflicted upon them, but through PUC, these wounds can be remedied.  

One method which the dean of PUC decided to combat these complications was to grant scholarships for students to study at PUC.  This was done by conducting interviews with the students and their families to gauge the amount a grant was to be given.  Additionally, the Dean has admitted that PUC has students from rich, corrupted families and he charges them more as the demand to study in a prestigious university in Cambodia is still high.  As a result of the additional fees, he distributes the money to the poor allowing them to break the cycle of poverty by giving them the chance to have a tertiary education. 

Additionally, something that really resonated for me was the main reason why the Dean wanted to have religion in conjunction with their studies.  He believes that by practicing Buddhism while studying at a tertiary level will allow the students to become more wise and kind-hearted people, designing them to be valuable members of society that have the ability to make ethical decisions in regards to any field they choose to have a career in.

My initial thought to this ideology was very impressed.  My mum comes from Indonesia where she finished her bachelor’s degree.  When I came to Cambodia, the environment was very similar, but it made me feel a bit uneasy due to different social practices as well as the language barrier.  From what she told me, this practice is very unique, yet it is something I have come to admire finding respect towards the dean and his reasoning.

In speaking with my classmates, I am aware that we came from different belief systems so learning about the practice of religion as part of our degree was surprising for some. For myself, I truly realised how lucky I was, to be able to practice a religion that wasn’t imposed on me and wasn’t a critical factor for me to be able to graduate.  However, back in Australia, I feel that my experiences at UTS only teach us what we have to know about our degree but nothing on ethics.  I feel that if a practice like this comes into play, we can all become better individuals/graduates.

As my trip concluded, I was left with thoughts on how has this trip made me a better individual.  In general, I am very self-reflecting person who always judges myself critically.  Whether it’s in academics or in my job, I always use my mistakes and opportunities to better myself. 

With my experiences of Buddhism during my trip, I have tried to incorporate their beliefs into mine.  As different countries have different interpretations of Buddhism, Cambodians to have their own way of practicing.  Cambodians practice a form of Buddhism called Theravada, one of the most ancient forms of Buddhism (, 2019).  On one of our final days at PUC, the dean gave us lecture on the practice of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia, allowing an immersive and memorable lesson to be imprinted on us.

The main points of Theravada Buddhism are to not harm anyone, sell poisons/weapons and to not harm animals.  Although Cambodians eat meat, they have a slight derivation to the final rule.  It is justifiable to eat meat if they cannot see or hear the animal being killed (Pheng, 2018).

The lessons that Dr Pheng, the dean of PUC has taught me will leave a mental imprint on me throughout my life.  A few practices that I have tried to incorporate these teachings into my life is to appreciate living creatures in general.  I have tried to not kill anymore insects but instead to let them go in a way to show my new appreciation of life as well as to become a more patient and caring individual.

This program has ultimately allowed me to obtain new perspectives as well as develop a deeper appreciation for culture and life.  I can only hope these experiences will stay with me and allow me to become an empathetic doctor one day which I believe is an important trait a medical practitioner should possess.

Landing back in Sydney was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I was overjoyed to be coming home and on the other, I was sad to have left my new friends. One thing I can say about this trip was that it has certainly exceeded my expectations. I miss the camaraderie that I have established with the local students and I still keep in touch with them, messaging them on Facebook now and again to catch up. My favorite part of this trip was establishing connections and friendships globally with other students which I hope will be life long relationships. If I had the chance to do it all again, even if it meant going through my challenges for a second time, I will accept without even a second thought. I recommend to all students to have an international experience as it will be a fresh of breath air compared to the everyday life of going into uni as it is an experience to be studying overseas.


1. Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project 2019, Religious Composition by Country, 2010-2050, Washington, D.C., viewed 15 March 2019, <>.

In-text Citation: (Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 2019)

2. 2019, Buddhism: The Different Forms of Buddhism, viewed 22 March 2019


In-text Citation: (, 2019)

3. Pheng, K. 2018, ‘Purpose of Life’, PowerPoint Presentation, Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, viewed 23 March 2019

In-text Citation: (Pheng, 2018)

The life of a loving Father, Husband and a Tuk Tuk Driver

I spent the first 2 weeks of December in Cambodia with Engineers without Borders for the Design Summit. It was a very intense couple of days there, getting to know the culture, meeting new people, learning new things and then finally saying goodbye to all the new friends that I had made. The Summit focuses on Human Centred Design, that we use during our visits to the village.

This Post is regarding one of the workshop excercise that we had to do during the program.

As soon as I landed in Cambodia, I noticed a couple of distinctive features about the country, which were the vibrancy in building colours, the friendly faces and the thousands of Tuk Tuks!

In our first week in Cambodia, we had to attend multiple workshops arranged by EWB. One of the workshops was regarding community and cultural sensitivity. This workshop’s main objective was to help us improve our communication skills whilst speaking to the locals in a respectful and sensitive way. This was really important as there maybe a language barrier between the locals and us, so we had to be as respectful as best we could.

After attending the Community and Cultural Sensitivity Workshop, we had the task of interviewing a local Tuk Tuk Driver and finding out more about his life. The objective of the interview was to determine an issue the Tuk Tuk Driver might have and then as a team, we would have to come up with possible solutions for the driver. For this exercise, I teamed up with Kevin, Jeremy and Lukas. We then sat down and discussed possible questions which were respectful and culturally appropriate to ask the driver. After the discussion, we set off to find a driver and this is how we found Narin.

At first we asked Narin if we could possibly interview him and he gladly accepted the interview, he was very well spoken. We started off with Ice breaker questions and we found out that Narin is your typical Cambodian man who wants the best for his family. He has been driving a tuk tuk for the past 15 years and he absolutely loves his job. This is because he loves meeting new people and loves getting to know more about them. As a joke, we asked Narin if he “liked racing with his Tuk Tuk”, to which he replied “No I don’t like it because it is dangerous and I am a safe driver!”. Shortly after speaking to him, our team quickly realised that Narin was very sensible and was very alert about his job, which was a very good start. We then asked him “What was the hardest thing about being a Tuk Tuk Driver?” to which he replied “The lack of customers and the maintenance costs”. There is a lack of customers for Narin as he waits for customers in a dead spot, an area which he has been advised to stay in.  He says he gets frustrated when there are not too many customers as he cannot earn the money for his family and that he can’t raise enough funds for the maintanence for his Tuk Tuk (which is about $20 every 2 months or so). Narin says he wouldn’t mind working long hours as long as he had customers, he once had a shift for 24 hours straight! But working long hours is very rare for Narin, he typically works from 7 am to 6 pm everyday.

Narin’s typical day starts off with a dollar breakfast, he then goes to his spot and waits for customers. He then works until lunch time where has lunch for a dollar again! After lunch he likes to go back home for an hour to exercise then he’s back at work until dinner. Food wise, Narin enjoys eating Fish but he doesn’t mind eating meat such as beef or chicken. All though his days might be repetitive, he doesn’t mind it. We asked Narin if he had any wishes, to which he told us that he would like to visit Thailand for and work there but he can’t do so as it is very expensive for him to get a passport, visa and an air ticket. But he assured us that he is more than happy to stay and work in Cambodia as Cambodia is his motherland after all!

We then proceeded to ask Narin about his family. He told us that he has a wife, a son and a daughter. Narin’s wife works at a factory but he doesn’t like that as his wife is not appreciated in her job as she is heavily underpaid ($5 a day!). Narin loves his wife very much, we were sure about his as we asked him “What is the best thing about Cambodia?” to which he replied “My Wife!”. Narin told us that he and his wife works very hard to provide for their children’s education as they don’t want them to struggle like they did. He and his wife want their children to be either a doctor, policeman/policewoman or a teacher. Narin and his wife strongly believe that education is the way for the future for his children and the country, this is because all the intellectuals that were supposed to move the country forward in the 1970s were killed under the Pol Phot Regime. He strongly believes that his children and the children of other Cambodians who will be educated will be way forward for a brighter future for Cambodia.

We were really inspired and touched by the interview that we had with Narin, although it was an interview, it felt more like a causal conversation between friends. After our talk we gave Narin $7 for his time and effort and then he wanted to take a picture with us and we gladly took pictures with him. It was hard to say goodbye to him as we found out a lot about his life in a very short time. As we were saying our farewells, Narin gave us his phone number so that we would call him if we ever needed a friendly face in a Tuk Tuk to take us around Phnom Penh! (I called him for a ride to the airport at the end of the program :)).

My Team with Narin

Ali Arman Khurshid


Cambodia – EWB Humanitarian Engineering Design Summit, July 2016

For 2 weeks in July 2016 I went to Cambodia as a student engineer and participant in the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Humanitarian Engineering Design Summit.

We were a big cohort of 55 aspiring engineers from all across Australia.


Upon arrival we split into one of three groups; Ibis, Banana or Turtle. I was a member of Team Turtle, with 20 of the greatest human beings in Australia. Within a matter of hours we became a family.

Team Turtle:


During the first week of the summit, we spent almost all of our time together as a team, from meals and shopping to workshops and design challenges. As well as sharing cultural experiences and being tourists. Together we ate crickets and tarantulas as a ‘detour’ on our Amazing Race around Phnom Penh and got the opportunity to go dolphin watching along the Mekong River.


Throughout the summit workshops were run to introduce us to Cambodian culture. In these sessions we learnt to speak and understand a decent amount of Khmer. We also did engineering work on understanding community development and the importance of appropriate technology. Additionally a day was spent learning about the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot Regime – I personally found this to be an extremely emotional and insightful day, regarding the history of Cambodia.

At the start of the second week, team turtle along with a group of translators, travelled a total 7 hours by bus and needle canoe, from Pnomh Penh  to the rural island of Koh Dambang. We stayed here for 4 days and 5 nights, immersing ourselves into the lives of our homestay families in order to empathise with them and gain greater insights into the needs and wants of their community.

Team turtle with our homestay families:


This meant using squat toilets, no ‘proper’ showers, no beds and hardly any power – so no A/C, fans or lights all through the dehydratingly dangerous heat. All of this was accompanied by a traditional diet of rice, noodles, fish and morning glory.






On our last day on the island we attended a blessing ceremony, where the village monk showered us with blessed water. At night there was a full moon/rice harvesting party, which was such a great experience, getting to sing and dance with all the locals.







The community’s livelihood comes from farming and fishing. Activities both done under harsh sun rays. Unfortunately sunscreen is too expensive for them to use to protect their skin. As a result many villagers get heat rashes while working on their farms. The rashes can last up to a month when not treated. Consequently after returning to the mainland, three other members of team turtle and myself decided to tackle this issue of sun protection. We began by building upon the community’s pre-existing resources of Aloe Vera. Followed by educating community members on how to grow and maintain more aloe vera plants and the the medicinal uses of Aloe Vera gel in terms of sun treatment and heat rash.



After arriving back in Pnomh Penh we had a graduation ceremony followed by a 3 hour karaoke session.


Being surrounded by such like-minded and amazing future engineers for 2 whole weeks was a truly amazing experience. One that i would highly recommend to anyone who is interested. EWB holds these summits regularly during uni breaks, traveling to Cambodia, Nepal and India.

Our last sunset in Cambodia:

13987951_10209128135793021_985296013_o (1)

Nikita Isaac


Cambodian Arts and Culture: January 31st 2015 – February 4th 2015

I signed up for the Cambodian arts and culture BUiLD program because I wanted to learn how to apply the skills I have learned at university in the real world. I also wanted to learn how I could use these skills to make a difference in the world because when I leave university I don’t just want a career to make money, I want to be able to help others. In reality I learnt this and a lot more. The trip involved four weeks of working to develop a social enterprise called Lightbox in the small town of Kampot. Lightbox was developed to regenerate Cambodian arts and culture and provide a sustainable source of funding for a local not-for-profit organisation called Mayibuye that offers free creative education to children in rural areas of Cambodia.

My trip began with one of the most stressful plane flights of my life. Being a nervous flyer I had difficulty getting onto the plane to being with so, the 8 hour flight was going to be challenging. Once I got onto the plane I was seated between two women who were both incredibly friendly. However, the world runs on irony so naturally one of the women was terrified of flying. From the beginning of the flight she was crying, grabbing her seat and swearing. This made me feel a thousand times worse but in my nervous state I knew I had to do something to manage the situation because other customers were looking around rather concerned.

I introduced myself and started to talk to her about my fear of flying and how I dealt with it. I spent the next 8 hours explaining the various sounds and movements of the plane, holding her hand and silently freaking out to myself in my head and hoping I wouldn’t die in a plane crash. Much to my surprise, my strategy helped and while I was struggling internally, the rest of the people on the plane were able to relax. The rest of my Cambodia trip involved many of the same themes as that terrifying plane flight; massive challenges, facing my fears, communication, leadership, learning, experiencing things I never had before and meeting new friends.

The first week involved meeting the group, learning about social enterprises in Cambodia and the Cambodian genocide (which wiped out almost all of the intellectuals and artists in the country), running arts and craft classes with the children from Mayibuye and learning all about Lightbox. Week two was all about market testing. This involved cleaning the Lightbox premises and preparing it for our market testing event, promoting the event and sourcing everything we needed. The event we held was called StepUp Cambodia, it included traditional and contemporary dance performances, dance classes and a bar (which we had to set up because the Lightbox premises didn’t have one). We made flyers, painted, cleaned, launched a crowd funding campaign, bargained with locals, networked and promoted our hearts out. In the end, our hard work paid off as the event was a massive success and was an incredible learning experience for everyone involved. By the end of the week the group was completely exhausted and well and truly ready for our three day weekend.

Our persistence in week two set us up well for week three which was incredibly intense. It was focused on developing a massive (80+ page) business plan, branding for Lightbox and a pitch to sell our idea to investors at the end of week four. The final week (week four) was just as intense as we had to finalise our business plan and we found out we would not only be pitching to investors from around the world but also, to representatives from UNESCO. As the finish line loomed all-nighters became a common theme and with many tired people the amount of tension and conflict increased. In spite of this, our group continued to communicate effectively and produced an incredible business plan and pitch.

What I have outlined above is only a tiny snippet of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My journey involved everything I have written and a whole bunch more. It’s something that’s so hard to explain unless you’ve lived it, everyone should experience something like it at least once in their life. I left Cambodia a changed person, found a piece of myself that had been missing for a long time and took with me friends, lessons and experiences that I will have for life.


Week 1:

Exploring Kampot for the first time

Visiting Lightbox for the first time

4.jpgOld bridge, Kampot

5.jpgMeeting the kids at Mayibuye

6.jpgCraft time!

Week 2:
Cleaning Lightbox

Our poster

The event

Firefly Cruise

9 people in a Tuktuk!

Week 3:

Working hard

19.jpgExploring Bokor mountain

2021Cooking class

Week 4:

22More hard work

23A group of people I will never forget 🙂

Mia Nestler – 11390061

Cambodia Reflective Journal

3/1/15 – 4/1/15

After over 24hrs of travel due to booking my flights late I finally arrived in Phnom Penh! Upon driving out of the airport my first impression of Cambodia are its crazy roads! Almost the first motorbike I saw had a mother, father and two young children on it. What was most surprising was that the parents were wearing helmets but the children were not. The rest of my first day consisted of visiting the Central market to get a phone charger and adapter. This involved riding my first Tuk Tuk which is so much fun and so affordable! Later that day our team leader, Zoe, arrived as well as one of my other team members Adam. That night we went to a restaurant on the river front called ‘The FCC’ which Zoe said is a bit of an establishment here in Phnom Penh. We also visited the night markets before walking back to the hostel and going to bed exhausted!

Having a proper night’s sleep meant we were all ready to start the day with some more exploring. After a quick breakfast at the hostel, two more team mates arrived. Guided by Zoe, we decided to all visit Phnom Wat, a temple in the city. We were lucky enough to experience traditional music and see the local people make offerings to Budda and pray. After this we walked to the national gallery to view some of the ancient Cambodia sculptures from places such as Angkor Wat. After our busy morning it was time to eat again. We settled on having lunch at the restaurant of a local organisation which trains street youth in cooking and hospitality. Hopefully we can find inspiration from places such as this when devising our own business plan in Kampot.

5/1/15 – 6/1/15

Before we departed Phnom Penh to travel to Kampot, Zoe suggested that it might be a meaningful experience for us to visit the genocide museum in Phnom Penh- the high school that was used as a prison during the civil war. The prison has been left exactly as it was found when it was liberated, creating a ghostly feeling about the place. This was a valuable and moving experience as it helped communicate the magnitude of the death and injustice that happened during that period in Cambodia. We then hopped in another Tuk Tuk and had the privilege of vising the iconic ‘White Building’ (that is now grey) in the centre of the city. It was built in the 1960s as public housing and now is an entire community within itself. We were specifically visiting a social enterprise that is based in the White Building called ‘Sa Sa Art Projects’ who aim to create community engagement and support contemporary Cambodian art. That day we had lunch at yet another social enterprise called ‘Daughters’ which trains and gives jobs to former women sex workers. We finished the day with a 2.5 hour bus trip to Kampot then a welcome dinner and drinks with other Lightbox and Mayibuye volunteers.

The 6th was our first serious day of work. The day started with splitting our project into two parts (marketing and strategic) then brainstorming our objectives for the week. This brought us to lunch at the local social enterprise called ‘Epic Arts’ which employs and trains disabled people in Kampot. We also checked out the space we will be working with at Lightbox for the arts space and bar we are going to make the business model for. The final activity of the day was a team building exercise before making the schedule for the rest of the week.

7/1/15 – 8/1/15

Wednesday the 7th was a day used to gather background information about what is currently in Kampot as well the viability of our idea of a gallery/bar. We started off this research by conducting SWOT analysis’s of businesses and social enterprises in the region. This was useful in starting the critical thinking process. We then decided that gathering primary information would also be useful. We wrote a number of questions to ask business owners and tourists/expats in the Kampot area. I went to other guesthouses in Kampot to speak to guests about whether they would be interested in an art gallery/bar. The response was mostly positive and also gave us some really valuable feedback and inspiration. From that we were able to construct a customer profile which will help shape the development of the business further.

The next day we had the privilege of vising the local state school where Mayibuye (partner organisation to Lightbox) runs arts and culture programs for its students. We provided some craft activities for the kids to do and they performed a few of the dances they had been learning through Mayibuye. It was great to see the impact that Mayibuye is having as well as seeing first why the success of Lightbox is vital for the funding of the Mayibuye program.

9/1/15 – 11/1/15

I spent the last working day of our first week developing our crowd funding campaign. We decided to go with the crowd funding platform Indiegogo due to the fact that their fee structure seems the most desirable. We set a goal of raising $8000 in 30 days, it might be a stretch by I think we can do it! That afternoon we filmed some interviews with Zoe and me to include in the video for our fund raising page. Looking back on the week I can see we have come so far already and are really gelling as a team. I can’t wait for next week. But first a relaxing weekend that involved a trip to the women’s spa and 21st birthday celebrations for one of the girls in our group.

12/1/15 – 18/1/15

This week was all about beginning to make our ideas a reality! We knew on the Friday, Lightbox was having an event which would give the Mayibuye kids a chance to perform as well as giving us a chance to test our initial vision for Lightbox. The week started off researching where we might source the materials such as furniture as well as deciding on a food and drinks menu. However, as the event was on Friday we had to pretty much get straight into it. I had developed a mood board on Pinterest which guided how we decorated the interiors. This included painting the cane furniture white, buying indoor plants and getting a local woman to make us cushions from fabric I bought at the Kampot markets. We also had to do a lot of promotion for the event, mostly in the form of handing out flyers around Kampot. Our biggest challenge was probably the budget as the only money available was the $600 people raised before we came to Cambodia.

The Friday of the event was an intense day as everything had to be put together at the last minute but it was a great night! A decent crowd turned out for the dance performances and most people bought at least one cocktail although the tapas weren’t as popular (despite being delicious!). Holding the event was a really valuable experience as it indicated what worked, what didn’t, and what we could do differently.

As it is about half way through the program, myself and 4 others took a mini break to Kep, a beach village about 30 minutes from Kampot. It is very quiet but it’s great to chill out in preparation for next week!

19/1/15 -23/1/15

This has been the most challenging week of the project so far. The number one aim for this week was to work on and complete the business plan. Whilst we are not yet done, I am so impressed by how hard everyone has worked and what we have been able to achieve. We already had a half completed business plan which the co-founder of Lightbox wrote which has been a useful source of information but otherwise we had to start again! This really highlighted how great it is to be on a trip with people who are from all different University faculties. We were able to utilise the skills of everyone in one way or another. For example, the person who is majoring in accounting did the finances while the girl who is doing design has done all the design work.

Next week is the pitch to investors, so I imagine we are going to be working very hard in preparation for it. But first, we have another three day week which we are using to go up Bokor Mountain and have two nights in beach town Sihonoukville.

24/1/15 – 30/1/15

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more hectic we have managed to move things up a notch! Everyone is adding the final touches to the business plan which we planned to have finished at the beginning of the week however it is continually being proof read and edited. Thankfully, the line was drawn on Thursday afternoon. It was a great feeling compiling all our hard work together and sending it off to be read by investors! That night and the following morning focus turned to the pitch which was scheduled to take place over an internet meeting on Friday afternoon. Three of the most confident speakers in our group were chosen to lead the pitch with everyone else stepping in during question time. Overall the pitch was a success and went very smoothly. Everyone was knowledgeable during their speeches and in answering questions. It was also obvious how attached and passionate we had become about the whole project.
After the pitch we celebrated by having a night out at our favourite bar, listening to live music. This was a great way to round of an incredible experience with incredible and passionate people. It is something I will never forget and continuously look back upon when informing my own life.

An Intern’s Insight into International Criminal Law

Over the summer break of 2014 I headed to Phnom Penh for a three month internship at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This special Cambodian Court, with the assistance of the United Nations, has been charged with ascertaining the truth behind the alleged crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

When applying, I decided to put the Defence Support Section as my first preference and I was fortunate enough to be accepted. There were two principal reasons why I wanted to work for the Defence. From a legal point of view, I have always been interested in defence and fair trial rights. Additionally, on a more personal level, I wanted to challenge myself to separate any preconceived notions I may have had about the regime and really focus on the work and the client. We are told at law school that this skill is fundamental and necessary in the legal profession and I knew that the ECCC, with its confronting subject matter, would pose a real challenge.

Within the Defence Support Section, I was fortunate enough to work on Case 002, which was at the trial stage by the time I arrived in Cambodia. I was on the defence team for Nuon Chea (otherwise known as Brother Number Two) who is on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code.

I was one of two interns in a team of 9 national and international staff. My duties were primarily focused on trial preparation. This involved both research and evidentiary analysis. It also meant I was in the Chambers at least two days a week, monitoring and analysing the trial. I truly loved this work, and found that I learned the most inside the courtroom where you see the preparation applied in practice..

In terms of working in the field of international criminal law, my internship made me appreciate some of its challenges.. First, and most importantly, you need to be passionate about the work. I know this may seem trite, but this zeal is absolutely essential as the hours can be intense, the bureaucracy can be tedious and the lifestyle transient.

Secondly, and this feeds off my first point, you need to be a fairly independent person. In a workplace that relies heavily on interns, there is a high turnover of both work and workmates. This is not an exclusive feature of international criminal law, but is something you must be prepared for. Whilst you do become well versed in farewell speeches, you will also have the amazing opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. I left Cambodia with some lifelong friends.

Finally, and again this may seem obvious, but a grasp of another language aside from English never hurts. At the ECCC there were three official languages (English, French and Khmer). Whilst the Interpretation Unit translated the proceedings, and most evidence was also translated, I found that it was really helpful to understand French. It allowed me to analyse translations, communicate with others in the court and access evidence that had yet to be translated.

My three months in Cambodia were invaluable. I learned a great deal, made some great friends and was privileged to get the opportunity to work with and learn from some very talented and generous colleagues. I would highly recommend such an experience to anyone who has an interest in human rights or international criminal law.

School of the Built Environment in Cambodia July 2015

The School of the Built Environment offers students numerous opportunities to travel overseas to learn about construction in other countries and to get their hands dirty!  This July the school is engaged in two projects, led my lecturer Michael Er.  From 5-11 July a group of 31 students worked with two local NGO’s to learn about the construction of local houses and then learn the skills themselves enabling them to assist in the construction of the homes.  Below you can see the type of houses the students were building and the work they did on constructing the floor made from bamboo strips.

Flooring group hammer IMG_6944

From 17-26 July, a group of 17 students will complete a project in the Maldives.  This is the first time the School of the Built Environment has run a project here.  The students arrived on Saturday and are so far enjoying their time.  Its hard work in the heat but they are working hard as a team and getting the work done alongside the local community who are very excited and grateful for the teams presence.

The three projects the students are working on, mentioned in a previous post, have been financed by UTS BUiLD and we are thrilled to be able to support the work of these local NGO’s and communities, and have UTS students assist in the project completion.  Below are some photos from the project so far;

beginning of paving project early stages of pre school stage  Welcome to UTSwelcome break

Project Everest Cambodia Update July 2015

Eight students working with Anjali House in Cambodia as part of Project Everest are now at the half way mark of their project and are working hard.  Below is an update from Patrick Boyle about the experience so far;


Fifteen days ago we arrived in Siem Reap. Ten travel-weary, sweat slicked and flushed faces. We arrived with one common, if somewhat vague, goal: To summit Project Everest. Now we have passed the halfway mark, that first day feels like a past life.

Week one was a scramble; some of us trying to find our feet in a foreign country, all of us trying to grapple with the actual problems facing the Anjali House. Anjali house is a non-profit organisation that works with 82 disadvantaged children in the Siem Reap area, providing free education, healthcare and food. At times I struggled to understand why we were here — how can we help, are we creating a positive impact, is this just an elaborate inflation of our higher education egos? And the most pressing question: is there a limit to how much sweat I can produce each day?

From the murky rubble of week one, several business ideas arose. We identified problems and gaps in the Anjali operations, and brainstormed the ways we could fill them. By way of collaborating with Anjali staff, we whittled those down to two main business proposals. Our group has become two streams (as was always intended), developing viable proposals for social businesses. My group is working on ‘The Humble Abode’, a volunteer-only accommodation house that falls under the Anjali umbrella. This venture could generate another form of funding to cover some operational costs at Anjali house. More importantly, the space provides hospitality training opportunities for the older Anjali students in the school’s Young Adult Program. Biggest objective for this week: the welcome mat design.

The second group (helmed by the hulking, Oakley-equipped Lucien) is laying down the groundwork for a sewing training school within Anjali house. This will be a small group of Anjali mothers, whose children attend the school, who have not had access to skills training. The idea is to connect these mothers in a program that can empower them to make an income from within the home.

Project Everest has helped me better understand ethical tourism and the potential harm that some voluntourism can afflict. Our program is thankfully aware of its potential and has a clear goal. No back-patting. No high fives. No delusion. We’re here to work, and thus far I’m enjoying every moment (dicey gastro-scares excluded).”

And some photos to complement the article above;


Interviews Kampot exploring

Interviewing the Anajli House during the project research phase              Exploring Kampot during the well deserved weekend break

Mission of Anjali House Trekking

Learning as much as possible about Anjali House                      Taking the opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside at the weekends

Hello from Cambodia! (June 2015)

On 28th June a group of 8 UTS students arrived in Cambodia where they will spend the next four weeks working closely with local NGO Anjali who support disadvantaged and orphaned children.  The team will be helping to develop a social enterprise to help generate a sustainable source of revenue. Their goal is to help the organisation identify how it can use its collection of local photos and art to develop an international art leasing business with major hotels that can develop into a scalable business with positive local community impact.

Below is the first update from team member Alicia Crowhurst;

“Project Everest’s Arts for Change program is going great. Week 1 is down and we’ve already made impressive progress and are learning so much thanks to our wonderful team leader, Zoe, who was very welcoming.

This week has mainly been visiting Anjali house, the NGO we are working with and interviewing the staff, volunteers and board to start off our research and business plans. Yesterday (Sat) we visited Angkor Wat, which was incredible. ”

black and white Kids at Anjali NGO Team at work

Temple at Angkor Wat DCIM100GOPROG0050235.