Despite being a professional engineer, a Prince George man had an experience of a lifetime surviving with village people in extremely poor conditions.
Dave McWalter of L & M Engineering recently returned from two weeks of hard labour in stifling heat to help build five simple homes for struggling families, introducing children to skipping ropes and soccer balls and building a soccer field.
"Cambodia is known as one of the poorest countries in the world, and these families subsist on small plots of land given to them by the government as repatriated soldiers. But they are not farmers, so they are forever struggling," said McWalter.
Dave and 26-year-old son, Scott joined a father-son project of 26 volunteers which worked for two weeks in the village near the city of Kem where they lived in a hotel that offered a restaurant.
He said the food consisted of lots of rice, fish and crab" and even the coffee was fine,"
The water quality being iffy, the workers used bottled water, but even so, Dave came home with a virus that has never been identified.
"What we know for sure is that's it's not malaria," said Dave, who is about 75 per cent back to normal with about a week of antibiotics still to take.
The volunteers started work at 6 a.m. daily and called it a day about 2:30 p.m. due to the 30 degree heat, but the group was able to cope with it.
The new homes, built from local wood and elevated from ground level due to flood conditions, are simple with doors, but no windows. They are relatively small, but give a better quality of life than the grass-thatched lean-tos where large families exist.
The Kamloops-based organization, Bridges Without Borders, has targeted the 25 poorest families in that village where its goal is to build 25 homes.
The 26 volunteers each donated $400 to the cause for a total of $10,400 to purchase the local house materials.
"We were moving the dirt by hand, but when it came to levelling a space for a soccer field we all chipped in and rented a tractor with a blade for about $200. We built goal posts and by the end of two weeks they had a soccer field. The first game, just before we left, was between the local children and the volunteer team. Everybody in the village came out to say goodbye."
He said the boys were given their first soccer balls and the girls their first skipping ropes from the many packed bags the team members took with them.
"Scott had to teach the girls how to skip, but they learned fast and just loved them," said Dave.
Among the houses built was one for a family of nine children plus their parents who had only a one-sided lean-to. The four oldest children went off to work every day helping to build roads. "They each earned $1 per day, and the highest wages paid for people like teachers is $60 a month," said Dave, noting people who work at lesser jobs like hotel workers or taxi drivers make much less.
Following Cambodia, Dave and Scott journeyed to Indonesia to identify the greatest needs for future projects.
"We visited six orphanages that need a lot of work done like washrooms and new buildings."
He said there will be four projects done this year
"In November we'll be sending teams of workers to restore the orphanages where we found rust and mold everywhere."
Now Dave is torn between the Cambodia and Indonesia projects as he wishes he could work on both at the same time.
His inspiration comes from simply wanting to help make a difference in the world.
"The world has been good to me, so this is my way of giving something back," said Dave, who invites anyone interested in getting involved in the projects to contact him at L & M Engineering, 1210 Fourth Ave.