Who are we?
At the beginning of the adventure we were a bunch of strangers who assembled under the flag of a Habitat for Humanity project and traveled to the half-forgotten land of Cambodia to build a decent house for previously selected family. Our goal was clear, and our minds focused on a single aim – to help those in need. It was marvelous to observe how easily we stepped into our new roles and cooperated, helping and caring about each other.
Many of us had previous experience with travelling to SE Asia, we expected the lowered standards of hygiene, terrible living conditions and poverty, but the reality of Cambodia – the poorest country of the whole region, touched our hearts. As we left our meeting point in the city of Siem Reap and travelled towards our destination in Battambang region, the tragic history of the country and realities of everyday lives of locals struck us deeper than we would like to admit.
Most of the houses in the countryside are build as a single-room shack standing on tall pillars to keep them secure and dry from the potent storms during rainy season. The single room serves as a living room, kitchen, bedroom, wardrobe and storage all at once, with the toilet being outdoors in a separate shack. In the floodplain areas, especially during the rainy season, the small houses are the only available living space, which is significantly expanded during the summer, when the surroundings of the house are used more extensively. Beds are nonexistent, as locals see hammocks as obligatory equipment of any house and during summer hang them under the houses and literally everywhere to enjoy a slow swing, hidden in the shadows.
The economic situation of the countryside is not much better either. People very often work as manual laborers for local entrepreneurs– folding different kinds of mixed foods into banana leaves, such as fish, rice or fruits; sewing or fishing, which becomes dominant especially during the rainy season. For a whole day of work, the standard wage is around 1-5 dollars. To understand how much that is- 1 dollar will get you a bottle of clear, still water.
The education system is still in ruins, children often have school more than 20 kilometers away, so their attendance is rather rare. The main way of transportation in the countryside is a motorbike and you often see five children sitting and standing on one, as their parents or neighbors drive them to school if they are not old enough to go by themselves.
When we arrived at our build site, we were greeted by the family we were helping in the upcoming days – the 86 year old grandma and her 20 year old granddaughter Lina. Grandma was physically unable to climb into a house on raised pillars, but luckily the local environment was suited to a sturdy house of rather classical construction, so next day we were introduced to the plan – to build a house… in five days!
None of us had previous experience with building houses in such humid conditions, so naturally, everyone was quite terrified, but when we learned the details of the construction, we set an ambitious goal – We will build TWO houses in the next five days – building such simple houses has to be easy, right? Well, we were quite wrong.
First, we encountered a minor technicality. Sure, Cambodia may be behind in terms of economic and social development, but none of us expected that a basic cement mixer could be impossible to find. We had no other choice than to resort to manual mixing of the cement using shovels, which was extremely tiring in such hot and humid weather. Secondly, it was that hot and humid weather that quickly brought us back to reality – digging a hole for the toilet in direct sun and temperatures over 35 Celsius degree was close to what most of us would imagine under the term hell. Nevertheless, we gathered all our strength and through fortitude and on day four, the house was almost finished. Moreover, the floor of the grandma’s old house collapsed the very next night, making our timing close to perfect.
On the last day, we decided to beautify the surroundings of the house to the best of our ability– we painted the outdoor walls of the house, built a rock-solid path to the toilet, planted fruit trees around the property and decorated the place with flowers, so Lina and her grandma would feel more at home. Lastly, we helped a neighbor down the street complete the construction of a bamboo floor, allowing us to treat it as a contribution to the dream of building our second home.
We left behind not only Battambang and Lina, but also a newly built house that will shelter Lina and her grandma from the burning sun and fierce rain. Furthermore, we all brought something back from Cambodia – feelings of accomplishment, fulfillment of helping those in need and widened horizons. We, people from 8 different countries travelled through Cambodia, where we met amazing people, experienced a culture completely different from ours, stepped out of our comfort zone and returned to our homes as changed individuals. Yet this whole project was based on team work. Thank you, to all who supported us directly, by easing our financial burdens with donations, warming our hearts by supportive messages and words of encouragement. After all, it is the little acts of kindness what makes us more human.
‘’Between hope and possible, there is a bridge’’ – We crossed it.
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