I built a house with my bare hands! Haha…okay, that was a tad dramatic. The truth is that I had an opportunity to join my hubby’s work foundation group in Siem Reap, Cambodia two weeks ago as a volunteer in a house building project.
I’ve never been to Cambodia and aside from what I’ve heard of the beauty of the historical Angkor Wat temples, I really didn’t know much about the country except that most people were living below poverty lines and facing challenges as a recovering society from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period. What I found when I was there, was that these very same people were one of the most friendly, helpful and amazingly resilient bunch I’ve ever seen.
So, who were we building the house for? Volunteer Building Cambodia (VBC) is a local, registered NGO that manages these house building projects for deserving villagers who have no ability or capacity to improve their living conditions. The VBC team engages closely with the local villages and helps to determine the need of each family through interaction, interviews and careful planning. Find out more about the fabulous work they do on their website.
Mr Sinn, a local with a heart of gold and the lead behind the work of VBC, got us working on a house build for a widow and her three young children in a little village of Treak.
This was her ramshackled hut. It took less than 15 minutes for a few guys to demolish it. They found rotting wood, scorpions and frogs among the thatching and flooring. It was also too low from the ground and it would flood every monsoon season and the family would live in very wet, muddy and dismal conditions for months. I’m so glad it’s gone now.
There were about 15 of us in the building team, and I can safely say 80% of us did not have the slightest clue how to build a kennel for a dog, much less an actual dwelling for a family. So, armed with the best intentions and some work tools, we humbly followed every instruction from Mr Sinn and we measured, sawed, chiselled, nailed and planed what seemed like endless pieces of timber and plywood. Almost like a Lego set, we were preparing the pieces which were to be put together later on.
The main frame of the house goes up, sitting securely on concrete foundation pillars. Expertly guided by Mr Sinn and his hardworking foreman (we called him ‘Bob’), the team quickly put together the floor, the stairs and part of the walls. We were very happy with the progress we made and were hopeful that we would finish the house by end of Day Three.
More loud banging. The walls went up and so did the roof (which were done by local hired help – we weren’t allowed to climb on the roof). The door fitted (albeit with much adjustment work), the balustrade for the balcony looked great and the stairs were sturdy. WE DID IT! Normally completed in 4 – 5 days, we did in three. You can’t imagine how pumped we were!
House blessing day. Local village leaders and Buddhist monks arrived for a blessing ceremony which we were honoured to have been a part of.
The team chipped in US$20 each so we could buy household and school items and food for the family – sort of a housewarming gift! The widow and her kids were elated and very appreciative of the new house and gifts.
It’s quite amazing how everything came together. I have learnt so much on this trip (maybe I’ll be able to build a kennel now, just maybe) but what I really took away from the trip is how any one of us can play a part in helping the less fortunate in making life just that little bit better no matter how small a part we play.
Happy thanksgiving to my friends in the US! Let’s be thankful that we have our loved ones safe and healthy, a sturdy roof over our heads and blessings bountiful. We could not ask for more.