Mr. Chen Phon is a 47 year-old farmer who lives in Kortrakeut village in Angkor Chum district with his wife Som Pohn, 53 and 15-year old daughter who goes to a local high school. The family raises poultry and vegetables at a garden behind their house and sells the crops to their neighbors. Mr. Pohn lost his right leg to a landmine blast during the war decades ago, and pieces of the exploded landmine shrapnel still lodged in his eyes. His right eye became blind and his left eye could barely see .
The family used to walk 1 kilometer to fetch water from an uncovered hand dug well. The water was impure and contaminated as it carried various diseases. Animals also drunk water from the same well, and pesticides were being used on the fields nearby.
Mr. Pohn and his neighbors then decided to dig a communal well in their village. Soon after they finished digging a 6-meter deep hand dug well, other community members started to collect water from the new well; especially during the dry season when most of unimproved wells were dried up. Mr. Pohn’s well was one of the only three wells that had water throughout the year. Nonetheless, due to the heavy usage, the well started to cave-in and could not draw anymore water.
In 2008, HFHC project staff found the caved well Mr. Pohn and his neighbors built and decided to talk with Mr. Pohn to inquire about the well usage. After the staff consulted with Mr. Pohn and informed him about HFHC’s initiative of assisting communities in constructing water wells, the Pohn family and the community members of Kortrakeut Village agreed to supply labor to build a new cement well. Habitat provided the construction materials and technical knowledge along with coordinating a Global Village team from Singapore. May of the same year, the construction of a secure and improved well was completed. The well was again used by other community members and this time, the water supply was more secure and the quality of the water has evidently improved as less illnesses were reported among those who drunk from it.
Mr. Pohn then decided to build 3 water tanks in line to draw water into his garden. The access to such a secure water source opened up a new possibility for the family. They started to expand the garden to grow more vegetables throughout the year and sell the crops to their neighbors.
What’s inspiring about his story is that not only did he build all 3 tanks by himself in 2 weeks; he only had one leg and was barely able to see at the time of the construction. With the improved well and 3 tanks, his family increased harvest of vegetable crops all year around in his beautiful garden and is able to sustain their livelihood.
The condition of Mr. Pohn’s his eyes worsened over the years and he became blind, but this did not stop him from working on his garden.
HFH Cambodia collaborated with Takeo Eye Clinic run by Daughters of Charity and Caritas International – an institution that supports landmine victims who were blinded or affected by the landmine explosions, and accompanied him to Takeo to receive free treatment and medication. A week later, HFHC staff visited Mr. Pohn and his wife to see how he was doing after the surgery.
Mr. Pohn now gained 50% of his vision on his left eye and 15% on the right eye. He still experiences some pain although he reported hat it seems to be manageable. His face brightened up as he described about the moment he took the gauze off from his eyes for the first time after the surgery. He was in shock with the joy of being able to see again. His wife, Som Pohn was also happy for her husband to be able to see the world again, and more importantly, he now can see her face. She told us that the joy and excitement is incomparable to anything, and their daughter no longer has to worry about discontinuing her education in order to help her father out.
Mr. Phon is now able to see how his vegetables look like, “it is so pleasant to be able to see what I grow without bending down and putting my face close to them. I can just see them fine,” he said. He sees a bright future for him and his family. “Now that he got his vision back, we can work harder and grow more crops,” his wife’s eagerness put a big smile on his face as he cheerfully told us about his plan to harvest more vegetables. With years of his experience in agriculture and livelihood training from several NGOs, he is confident of his knowledge in farming and working on his garden.
HFHC has been inspired by Mr. Pohn’s strength and innovative thinking to expand his garden by building water tanks. Our job is not only to construct houses and wells but also to build capacity and hopes among our beneficiaries so that they can invest in their skills and resources they have to improve their lives. Mr. Pohn’s hard work and dedication has touched us and showed us what it means to build hopes.