Moving from the countryside near the Vietnamese border, where she sold vegetables, was a big change for Samon and her husband and their four children. It was difficult to find a place to live in the beginning – especially one that the family could afford. At the Steung Meanchey dumpsite, where many other struggling families make a living by scavenging through garbage, Samon finally found a cheap place to rent. Her husband was employed as a skilled worker, and usually stayed on the building site where he happened to be, so Samon settled her family at Steung Meanchey and strived hard just to survive.
In 2005, a nongovernmental organization called PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, which means “For a Child’s Smile”) that provides education and vocational training facilities for young people from the dump site, offered Samon and her family a chance to improve their housing situation. They took out a loan of US$500 that they would repay over two years, at a rate of US$20 a month. With a new job at a child-care center, Samon was able to pay off the loan and then continue working for six more months to help her save some money.
Samon works as garbage collector now, earning US$2-$3 per day to support her four children, Srey Kun (age 20), Srey Kouch (12), Srey Derng (8) and Samnang (6). She gets up at 5 a.m. to work while her children go to school, where they get two meals a day and medical attention when required. Samon usually arrives back home around 9 or 10 a.m. to tidy the house and do the washing. The family has dinner together every night.
Their current house is made of wood, measuring about 4 meters by 4 meters. “It is a very precious place where I raise my children, but it was built over eight years ago and is now very bad,” Samon said. The walls are rotting, and so are the stilts on which the house sits. The roof is old and has many holes, which leaks in the rainy season, and the black water rises from the muddy ground and seeps inside the house. Samon often gets sick with stomach problems, and she pays a fee of 100 riel (25 cents) per day for her and her children for medical coverage from PSE.
Knowing that she needed a better place for her family, Samon applied for a home loan through Habitat for Humanity Cambodia. She was approved to build at “Smile Village,” a joint project with Habitat Cambodia and PSE, located 11 kilometers outside of downtown Phnom Penh.
Now, Phann Samon can dream about the future.
“My children are all studying at PSE,” she said. “After that, I want them all to be able to get good jobs. I want us to live in a clean, safe place – one that does not make me and my children sick all the time. This house built with the Habitat volunteers will give us that.
“I want to move in as soon as the house is finished,” she added. “I want to start a garden and sell my own vegetables and raise some chickens.”
New Home, New Hope – Part II