“I’m grateful that my children are able to go to school through the support of PSE, however, I always hoped that someday my kids would be fortunate enough to be able to live in a secure and clean house with enough space for sleeping and fresh air to breath,” said Mr.
Sok Von, 30, a scavenger and a father of four children, Oay Thavy-11, Oay Raksmey-9, Oay Thavid-7 and Oay Thavin-3. Sok Van’s family lives in Reoussey Village situated about 3 kilometers from the main road in Steung Meanchey Dumpsite. He, together with his wife Choum Sopha, 28, and their four children share a 4m by 5m stilt house, which they use for eating, sleeping and for their school work and home-based work. Their shelter is the combination of different scrap materials including a zinc roof with many holes, old and rotten wooden frames and stilts, while pieces of plywood and tent scraps are used as the wall and scraps of wood act as their floor. Von built his house together and pays rent for the land, which now costs $20 per month. “The rental price has been increasing because the landlord wants us to move out of the land plot, but we simply don’t have a place to go,” said Sopha.
Sok Von works hard to support his family especially their children. “We love them dearly. I’m very happy that they are able to go to school for free. It helps us a lot with our expenses for the rent and daily needs. I want to make sure that my family eats everyday.” As a rubbish collector, Von can earn around $5 to t$7.5 per day, while Sopha is able to make $2 to $2.5 in a day.
With a very small amount of income, Sophais quite smart in managing their expenses. Despite the fees for rent and utilities, she tries to save some amount for their emergency needs like medicine. The rest she would spend on food. With their very limited resources, from Sok Von’s scavenging and from her sewing jute sack at home, Sopha always makes sure that their spending wisely, she also makes sure that their children get the enough nutrition they need. “I carefully manage our resources when buying food for the children making sure that we have vegetables daily. I would also sometimes buy little amount of fish and meats. I really want my children to have enough to eat to be strong, but somehow, no matter how much we try to watch over our children’s health, our environment simply threatens it all the time.” Sopha said.
The surroundings and the air they breathe are very dirty and contaminated with the pollution from the dump around them. The dumpsite has no proper drainage system and the villagers experience flooding during the rainy season. “The small streets would literally be filled with dirty flood water,” Sopha added. The rainwater would flow down from the top of the tall hill of garbage and carries with it harmful waste.
What is worse, because of the small land plot that more than 60 families in the area share – rental plots not have space for toilets and rental houses simply do not have toilets, families share the use of 4 communal toilets that were built by PSE. Open defecation is still a very common thing.
“Over the years, we would approach the private clinic nearby when we get seriously ill, mostly in our stomachs. And when the sickness is still bearable, we would buy medicine instead. It is the cheaper way. Since getting sick is common, we would usually spend around $20 in a month on medicines and clinic service, which is why I make sure that we have set this amount aside every month. If only we can keep away from illness, then we can start to save for our children’s future and for our own home. I am excited to be able to do so when we begin to stay in the temporary living space near where my children study” said Sopha.
Sok Vorn and his family are one among the 270 families of the Smile Village Project – a partnership between PSE and HFH Cambodia. This November, 350 international volunteers will join to build houses with Sok Vorn and other families for five days. The project allows families to move from the Steung Meanchey dumpsite to live in the Smile Village where Hope and Happiness await.
“I am very happy to know that my family will soon be able to move to a secure and clean community with a better house condition. I am sure that this opportunity will allow us to save better and dream bigger,” continued Sopha.