Monday, 20 March 2017, was the official start of my third international build for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. This is my second build here in Siem Reap in the northwest of Cambodia, largely because my previous Habitat project here over Christmas week three months ago was so incredible, especially the local Habitat staff who were professional, capable, hard-working, and so very welcoming. And man, was it ever great to meet up with several of those people again at orientation Sunday night and at the worksite Monday morning.
This time around, it’s a huge team of 25 people made up of fellow US citizens, one Canadian, and two residents of Hong Kong. Ages range all the way from late teens to 60s. And like last December’s Cambodia team, part of the wonder is how quickly this group has bonded and how everyone has been positive, patient, friendly, and helpful without exception.
Our project is in the village of Pongtoek, part of the Chobtatrao commune* in the Angkor Thom district of Siem Reap province, about 35 kilometers north of the city of Siem Reap.
*Quick aside: Sorry to disappoint, but communes in Cambodia have nothing to do with hippies or cults: they’re just another level of government administration. Cambodia has 25 provinces which are then divided into districts, cities, or sections. The districts are then subdivided into communes which are collections of small villages. And I do not yet understand the distinction between a district and a section. One day, maybe…
Our Habitat team has been tasked with building a new home for Mrs. Sao and Mr. Lord, a young married couple with three young children who are living in a small, broken house with Mrs. Sok’s mother and brother. The adults are farmers working land that cannot adequately support the family: they’re able to grow enough rice to feed the family for six months of the year and buy rice for the other six months. Mr. Lord is also a musician who plays in a wedding band several times per month to generate an additional bit of income. And Mrs. Sok hires herself out to cassava farms in the area for $5 per day when she is able. After covering food and clothing, what little money is left over is saved for whatever medical expenses may arise.
The new home is a single room concrete structure with a toilet, a feature the family does not currently have. Their other option was a traditional wood house on stilts, like their current house, but concerns about damage from severe weather was the deciding factor. Their current house will remain and be used for other purposes, in part to better support the farming.