Blog Post: Emma's Year in Cambodia!




Emma joined White Ink in 2013 as a recent Part II graduate and is now one of our Senior Architects in the office, having been involved in the delivery of a mixture of schemes – check out QUB School of Biological Sciences, Holiday Inn & Staybridge Suites, Bath Road, and the Canalside development!

In 2019 she participated in a two-week design intensive with EMI to Ethiopia, where she was involved in the concept masterplan design for an Agricultural College Campus. In 2020 we were delighted to be able to support her on a one year ‘sabbatical’ where she joined again with EMI, this time in their Cambodia office.

She’s going to share a snapshot of her year in our latest blog…




EMI is a Christian organisation made up of a variety of design professionals (architects, engineers, construction managers) who work with various ministries and clients to help them serve a need in their local developing context. There are currently 11 offices around the world designing a world of hope.  I have just returned from a year with EMI’s Cambodia office, who will soon celebrate their fifth birthday!

I left Northern Ireland in June 2021, selling my trusty polo and letting out my house, and started working in the Cambodia office straight out of a delightful two-week quarantine. I primarily worked with the office’s small team of 3-5 young architects. It was such a joy to help them realise their value and worth as architects, and in their journey to exploring new topics and construction ideas, with the introduction of Revit and learning about their new Fire Code as just the beginning. They were also able to teach me lots about local design and construction, as well as welcoming me with open arms and sharing about their language and culture.

The office was comprised of people from all over the world – Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, England, Myanmar, Northern Ireland, and the USA. We met each morning for a time of worship and praise – such an enjoyable way to begin each day and unite the team before facing the challenges of design and construction!  One of my favourite memories is when we all learned and sang an old hymn in each of the four languages represented – it brought shivers to my spine then, and a tear to my eye now!

I was able to work on lots of projects during my time there, but will focus on just three that I’d like to share a little bit more about:




Samaritan’s Purse was established in 1970, and globally helps meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine. During one of my first projects in Cambodia, I worked alongside one of the local architects and a volunteer engineer from the US, to develop the exemplar design for their typical Cambodian school building, which they would roll out across several of the provinces towards the North of Cambodia. Our construction management team were already working on the delivery of an early school, and so we worked closely with them to develop and improve the design as construction challenges became apparent. It was a joy (and a challenge) to attend a tender presentation to potential Contractors led by my colleague, which was fully in the Khmer language, and visit one of the rural communities that these schools would benefit. It was also encouraging to see our relationship with SP continue to grow, and the office recently joined their first STEM event in the province in August which reached around 4000 young kids – as a STEM ambassador I was very excited about this!




The client for this project was a Korean missionary, who had a vision to create a sustainable village for those who currently live in slums in Phnom Penh and cannot afford healthcare or education for themselves or their children. They chose a large site near the town of Kampong Chhnang, where they intended to provide rent free accommodation suitable for establishing small local businesses, as well as training and jobs in other sectors for adults, while also starting an education network for the children of these families from kindergarten right up to university level. It is a hugely ambitious scheme, but one which is already taking route, with plans to start the housing units on site later this year.

For this project we organised a volunteer trip, which was opened to design professionals across the globe, joining us on site for 10 days to produce the initial masterplan concept design and present to the client. The office then completed the full concept design report the following month, which enabled the client to discuss with their wider team, use for fund raising purposes, and begin developing and procuring each section of the masterplan.

It was a project that explored areas of architecture that I had not directly been involved with before, as well as co-leading a team of very diverse professionals who were new to each other, the culture, and the working environment, and I am incredibly proud of the team and what we managed to produce in such a short period of time.






Agape International Missions (AIM) is a global organisation whose main goal is to ‘end the evil of child sex trafficking one life at a time’. EMI have been involved in several of their projects at Svey Pak, Phnom Penh, as they continue to expand their campus. I had the privilege of working with one of the local architects and a remote volunteer from the US to conduct a feasibility study for upgrading their existing childcare facilities, where we looked at several options to provide a Stage 1 standard of report.

This project had one of the biggest impacts on my understanding first hand of the needs that we, as designers, can help with. As the client representative showed us around the existing facilities, he pointed out the ‘pink rooms’ where the young girls were previously taken before being sold for the first time – now this space has been renamed ‘Rahab’s House’ and is used for rehabilitating and counselling those who have been, or are vulnerable to being, trafficked.

He also showed us around ‘The Lord’s Gym’ – an impressive martial arts focused gym facility, established to tackle the trafficking problem from an alternative angle. The Gym is geared to facilitate the young men in the local area who have lost their way and assist them in getting back on track, with more than just physical training.






Cambodia is a beautiful country, with such warm and friendly people.

As well as working a normal 9-5ish job, I was delighted to be able to travel around some of the provinces for both work and leisure, visiting the famous Angkor Wat Archaeological Park and its many temples, feeding elephants in the jungle, and nipping across to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand for a slice of paradise – I would highly recommend!

Sometimes when we participate in programmes like this, our main goal is how we can teach and help others, but I feel like I gained so much more from the experience than I could ever give.

Hopefully I will get the opportunity to return in the not-too-distant future!


If anyone would like to find out more please reach out!