A Journey of Hope in Cambodia

Every build offers a highlight to each participant. The recent Hope Journey in Cambodia affirms this notion. There are the two home partners – Meng Nat and Thoun Visal – who opened up their lives to the people who helped them build their own homes. There are also the participants, who were eager to understand a new culture and to appreciate resilience through the different people they met. There are those that organize the build, who witness how lives are touched in many ways, and there are also the community people, who instantly become an important part of the build, making the experience even more complete for all.

Hope Journeys are unique travel experiences that provide participants an opportunity to help transform communities around the world. In addition to working alongside Habitat for Humanity partner families, the teams meet with community, government and businessleaders to gain a better understanding of the challenges of poverty and to witness firsthand how Habitat transforms lives.

The Hope Journey team in Cambodia was composed of 12 members – Scot and Keely Sellers and their 3 children Ross, Kaitlyn and Alyssa, Joe and Christine Price, Winston Fisher, Andrew Joblon including Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, who personally invited the participants, his son Alexander and Susan Yow, Tithes Director of HFHI.

The team started their journey with a visit to historic places like the Killing Fields and informal settlements at the Stoeung Meancheay dumpsite and the house of one of the home partners, Meng Nat. This part of the trip sets their entire journey into perspective, allowing them to understand Cambodia’s tragic past and the prevailing problems that they couldeventually take part in solving.

“Despite very challenging conditions, we’ve been so impressed with the resilience and graciousness of the people we’ve met,” said Jonathan Reckford. Meng Nat and her family warmly greeted their guests to their rented house. Thoun Visal, on the other hand, started his day early at the build site helping the skilled workers as he excitedly waited for the group to arrive.

The participants eagerly and devotedly started building. It is wonderful to note how families and individuals of such high stature would ensure that each of them worked very hard to carefully lay and point bricks to build walls, mix cement, install different parts, paint windows and doors, clean the site and also to get to know the home partners and the people from the community.

During the three-day build, the participants also visited other Habitat home partners under its HIV OVC program and had a dialogue with partner NGO MaryKnoll to understand more about the program and how it holistically supports vulnerable families. The younger ones spent some quality time with the community kids making beaded accessories for them. It was obvious that getting to know and playing with the children were some of the best moments in their journey.  At the dedication of the two homes, everyone gathered to  celebrate with the families; they offered well-wishes, shared experiences, shared much laughter and tears, danced and sang and released birds and flowers to blessthe families with hopes for their better future.

Everyone was high spirited and was touched by the dedication. It was difficult to say goodbye. “I have loved every Habitat dedication ceremony I’ve had the privilege of participating in, and this was the kind of afternoon that makes me want to work for Habitat forever,” said Jonathan.

Hope Journey did not end here. After a day of building and celebration, the team hosted a dinner reception as Habitat ambassadors with partners from the government and private sector promoting Habitat Cambodia’s drive to strengthen and expand their partnership. Habitat Cambodia is thankful for how the participants helped engaged the guests to Habitat’s work.

Next stop, the team also took some time together to visit the ancient wonder of Angkor Wat.

After the sightseeing, the team went to the village of Trokiet in Angkor Chum district to join Habitat Cambodia in a Hand Washing andHygiene promotion event in the village school, Kor Trokeat Primary School. Hope Journey team members walked in a parade with the school children as they encouraged villagers to practice proper hygiene and sanitation carrying posters which they designed and proclaiming their commitment to better practices in their homes and communities.

In the school, children explained their concepts of healthy sanitation practices and learned more through hand washing and personal hygiene demonstrations that were performed by the participants. They joined the kids in practicing proper hand washing and also taught them how to clip their nails to keep their hands clean. The children were also motivated to share what they learned through a simple game where they answered questions and also presented their works of art to the younger kids. It was a fun-filled learning day for the children and a heart-warming one for the team. Before saying goodbye to the village, the team also visited Habitat home partners supported by its Water and Sanitation project and further learned how families’ productivity and livelihood are improved by having access to simple water and sanitation facilities. “It has been an exceptional trip. I love introducing people to Habitat’s work, and the group has engaged with great energy and spirit. We have laughed and cried together, and everyone will have some great memories. When I asked team members what they would remember most, each responded that the highlight was the opportunity to build with and engage the partner families and community. I will always remember the warmth, gracious hospitality and extraordinary resilience of the families we got to know and look forward to the day I can return and visit them again,” says Jonathan Reckford in a blog that he kept to share his experiences in Cambodia.

It is very clear how each of the family and community members and each participant touched each other’s lives in the short span of Hope Journey. Some may think that a build is just another build, but this is not true for Habitat builds, where every build has a special highlight. For the recent Hope Journey, every experience was created in humility.

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