Veoun Sam Art timidly controlled his excitement as he made his way to the group. He and his fellow home partners were to meet with the Habitat team for a build orientation. For Sam Art, this build was far from the ordinary. He was building his own home. There was no denying of his delight – he happily volunteered to watch over the storage room that was being prepared for the build and committed to help tidy up the site by picking litter, clearing debris and clearing the pathways, “We have to keep the site clean and ready. They (volunteers) are arriving soon.”
Veoun Sam Art and his wife Eng Sopheap and 3 other families – Chum Pov, Phan Na, Sous Chreb – have been preparing for the build that will lead them to starting anew. March 30, the conclusion of the 5-day Hands and Hearts Build, marked the tipping point in their lives. They fi nally have a stronger sense of security, they fi nally own their homes.HIV has made Veoun Sam Art and his wife’s lives very diffi cult yet they remain thankful, “We are thankful that our children do not have HIV, but we still fear how our disease affects their day-to-day lives. They experience discrimination from other neighbors. We worry every day about how they will live when our times come as we don’t have relatives whom they can approach for help.”
The couple was provided welfare support, and with their industrious nature, they were able to build a thatched house in a small plot of land for their four small children and receive a grant to buy a second hand motorbike. They work as fi sher folks in the monsoon season and become lotus bulb collectors during dry season. Veoun Sam Art also works as a public motorcycle driver. Sometimes his wife makes time to peddle clothes in nearby villages.
Just as they feared, Veoun Sam Art found outthat the land they live in will be seized by the government soon. Th is prompted him to apply for a house grant with Habitat for Humanity. “We felt very happy when we heard about Habitat’s project of building a house for us this month. It gives us peace of mind knowing that we will be able to leave our four children with a secure home,” he shared.
Th e 27 Australian volunteers have also been preparing months and months back for their trip to Cambodia. They individually came up with creative ways just to be able to raise funds to help many families such as organizing a ‘Clean-Up Drive for Cambodia’, a charity dinner and golf tournament, an auction, among many others. Th e build experience they gained affi rmed their drive to help.
More than laying bricks or building a foundation or simply mixing cement, the volunteers’ contribution and enthusiasm at the build site and during fund raising inspired home partners like Veoun Sam Art and many more volunteers who are considering volunteering and off ering their time, money and skills to help change people’s lives for the better.
Th e Hands and Hearts Build commenced with the volunteers’ tour at important historic sites in Phnom Penh, allowing them to know more about the country. An orientation was conducted by Habitat Cambodia and Australia staff , which helped volunteers know more about the projects and prepared them for the build.
Volunteers were eager to get their hands dirty on the fi rst day when they were greeted bythe home partners, skilled workers and the community people. During the week, they visited the Steoung Meanchey dumpsite to understand more about the housing situation in Cambodia and a Habitat home partner – Vorn Nhor – who happily showed them how to make fabric fl ower as her form of livelihood.
One volunteer, Glenn Schultz shared, “It’s hard to put in to words the experience of participating in the Hearts and Hands Build. Th ere are lows – seeing the living conditions and learning about Cambodia’s dark past and the highs- handing over the House, interacting with the local kids and working as Team with people you did not know prior. It’s hard work, in hot humid conditions and I came here not knowing what to expect, but you just can’t help fall in love with this place. The laughter and smiles from the Cambodian people fill the room and they are so friendly. I can easily say this is one of the proudest moments of my life. If you ever get an opportunity to go on a build, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences you could imagine.’’On the fi nal day, volunteers gaily decorated the homes. Photos were taken, simple gifts where shared, birds and fl owers were released for good luck, prayers, well-wishes, warm hugs and tears of joy were shared.
For the Hands and Hearts Build volunteers, and home partners like Voeun Sam Art, this was not the end. This was just the beginning.