By Lauren McKenzie (Year 8)
Over the school holidays, myself and 17 other people travelled to Cambodia. We were on a mission to build 16 houses for some of the poor families in a farming village outside of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Pen.
We didn’t just have to build the houses, we had to raise funds for the materials too. So at the end of last year, Mum and I held a kids disco at the Buninyong town hall with a $5 entry and a lolly stall. We raised about a third of what we needed which was $3,000. We held another disco earlier this year and almost met our goal. To finish up we sold 16 boxes of chocolates making $800 and reaching the $3,000 goal. Enough to buy the materials to build 2 houses for the less fortunate in Cambodia.
To get to Cambodia, Mum and I took a 9 hour flight to Vietnam then another 45 minute flight from there to Phnom Pen, Cambodia. The next day we went to the S21 jail in the city which was used during the war 30 odd years ago. We learnt about how prisoners were treated and how they were tortured. Then we went to the killing fields where we learnt more about the horrors of the war. Both these places were very confronting and helped to explain why Cambodia is such a poor and under-developed country.
The next day we had a quick brief at the Tabitha Foundation about the building and the rules, then we headed off to the building site in a province just outside of Phnom Pen. When the bus was driving towards the building site, we could see all the families in a big group waiting for us with smiles on their faces. It was hard to keep from crying once we saw the relief in their eyes because they knew that their fortune was about to change. They were going to get a home. We got straight to work hammering down the bamboo floors and putting up the tin walls. It was hard work but after learning about everything the families had been through we pushed on and ended up completing 11 houses. It was a great effort considering it was so hot and none of us were very experienced in building.
The next day we completed the last 5 houses which left us plenty of time to play with the village children. We set up a drawing table and taught them how to play handball. They were all so happy and we taught them how to say ‘hello’ and ‘g’day’. It was just amazing that they could all be so happy and friendly even though they have so little. Before we left we had the handing over ceremony, where each family was given a quilt to take into their new home. There is a word I learnt in Cambodian called ‘Akhun’, which means thank-you. When you say it you bow your head slightly with your hands in a praying position. This was what all the children, all the families continued to do through the ceremony. It was hard to leave but it was a great feeling to know that we had given these people a home.
The houses were built on stilts because the old homes of these families were tents and shacks that were on the bare ground. This put the family members, especially young children, in danger of sickness and disease. They were all so in danger of being flooded as the village was right next to a river. So now that they are on stilts they are not in worry of any of these things.
The last 3 days were spent exploring Cambodia. We travelled to Siem Reap where we toured the temples and bartered in the markets. I was sad to leave the beautiful Cambodia and I hope to return again. It has taught me to be grateful and I now know just how lucky I am.
Tabitha Foundation House Building Program:
Below is an outline of the Tabitha Foundation Volunteer House Building Program. For more information please visit tabithaaustralia.org.au
- To provide an in depth and meaningful experience for foreigners visiting Cambodia. The team members will experience not only the tourist attractions but will come to understand and befriend Cambodians – both the poorest and the middle class.
- To educate volunteers about poverty and the issues involved – it is an education in the causes of poverty, the results of poverty and solutions to poverty.
- To become partners with Tabitha-Cambodia in our outreach – team members become volunteer sales people as well as fund raise for various projects.
- To give Cambodians the opportunity to teach foreigners the skills of house building – rather than being taught by the foreigners – develops a deep sense of pride.
- The families chosen represent the very poorest in their communities as well as being role models for their courage and faith in their own ability to
overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.