Revisiting Familiar People, Places and Making New Memories
After a short hiatus, SIR Make a Difference (SMAD) has returned to Phnom Penh Cambodia. Our very first visit was in 2009 when we inaugurated our Annual Donation Drive with our first container reaching Sunrise Cambodia where I had the opportunity to meet with the enigmatic Geraldine Cox who got me hooked on returning and making more of a difference.
Ever since then, we have been sending numerous containers to different charities, missions and non-profit organisations. We have even published a Children’s Book to raise funds and I am delighted that the many causes we have supported over the years have flourished and have found patrons and long-standing supporters to aid in their development.
Unfortunately, amidst the shiny skyscrapers that are popping up all over the city and the premium fancy cars and brand new tuk-tuks (with booking APPS) that ply the road there is still a substantial percentage that are living at or below the poverty lines.
This year, we joined friends who have been regularly house-building in the provinces in Phnom Penh. This was made possible through the Tabitha Foundation Cambodia which is a sustainable non-profit organization which was initiated, founded and established in 1994 by Ms Janne Ritskes. Since then, it has worked with over 1.8 million Cambodians in the country's poorest communities. Tabitha's philosophy of self-help is designed to promote self-sufficiency and dignity through savings, counselling, and goal-setting programs.
Our journey started with a heart-wrenching presentation and orientation at the Tabitha Headquarters. In a matter of minutes, a room filled to the brim with volunteers comprising of adults and children were silenced as a Pol Pot survivor shares his first- hand experiences under the regime. No matter how many times I have been in Cambodia, it’s never easy listening to the tragic events that took place not so long ago.
Our House Building commenced the next day in a province that was a 2 - hour bus ride from the city. Due to logistical reasons we could not stay the night so that meant going back to the city and returning the next day.
*Tabitha’s House Building programme brings together volunteers from around the world to help construct houses for families participating in their Savings Programme. Community elders and Tabitha staff select the neediest families, who are to receive a house, from within a community. Each family will, over the course of several years, have accumulated enough savings, usually US$40 –US$100, to buy a small piece of land and some of the building materials. The donations from the volunteers covers three elements essential to a family’s journey out of poverty: Housing; Water; and participation in the Savings Programme. Tabitha hires local contractors to construct the foundation and frame the structure, and volunteers can then install floors and walls over the course of two or three days’ time.
We had 4 groups of volunteers and each group was assigned to 1 house on each day. By the end of the 2 days we were able to hand over 8 homes to 8 families.
On both days, our team always had the father of the receiving family involved in house-building. The mother, toddlers and babies were there every day watching us, always smiling and lending support. The Cambodian heat can be daunting, even when coming from Singapore, and for most us, knocking nails into bamboo and aluminium cladding was not something we did regularly or had ever done. The Tabitha team made “nail starters” for anyone struggling to get the nail into the bamboo. Simple, ingenious and it did the trick because bamboo is not flat. For two whole days, volunteers with children would spend hours focussing on one objective, the completion of a house. Kids of all ages pitched in, even as young as seven. During break times, they did what they loved the most; play, and they found their own way of connecting and involving the local children in their games.
It may have only been two days but it was for me full on and so much better than some of the holidays I have been on. While the sense of achievement can be exhilarating, I relished in the fact that for two days I just had one job to do…. To knock in as many nails as I could to meet completion timelines. There were no distractions and a lack of focus would result in a sore thumb so that single intensity left the biggest impression on me.
When we completed all the houses in accordance to the required standards, we handed each one over to every family with a little ceremony and a house-warming gift. I could see the beaming pride on their faces as they stood in front of their new homes… and I witnessed their respect as they removed their shoes before entering their front doors.
The SMAD team will definitely be returning in 2020! Thank you for the Amazing Experience Tabitha Cambodia and to my fellow volunteers, Thank you for the Memories.
*Information obtained from https://tabitha-cambodia.org/
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