In November, had the opportunity to lead a Global Village Volunteer Team for Habitat to Humanity to Cambodia. What a great experience! It was not only the first time I’d traveled to Cambodia, but also a new volunteer experience for me – out of 20+ international volunteer trips, this was my first BIG build. 🙂
What, you may ask, makes this so special and WHY, Tricia, are you emphasizing the “BIG” part of this? Well, this was no ordinary project. In summary – 265 international volunteers came together during the same 5 days in Battambang province to build 23 houses for deserving homeowners. If that doesn’t qualify as BIG I’m not sure what does.
From time to time, countries who are working with Habitat for Humanity decide to put on a special event and focus their resources on helping lots of families at the same time. It’s their way of boosting their capacity and serving as many homeowners as possible! This event, known as a “Big” or “Blitz” Build, is not only a mechanism by which homes are constructed, but also serves to build a bigger community of volunteers. Here’s a little bit of information from Habitat for Humanity Cambodia on this years event.
During this year’s Cambodia Big Build, 17 teams of 2-40 volunteers each from 6 different countries participated. The largest groups came from the US, Canada and New Zealand, but volunteers from Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong were there to contribute too! Here’s a photo of most of the group – wow.
Because of the size of the group, the logistics were obviously very different than most of the other projects on which I’ve participated. Instead of spending a week in the most remote corner of Kyrgyzstan, Zambia or China where few tourists ever travel, we created our own international convey descending on Siem Reap and Battambang en masse. We spent time not just learning about the local culture, but meeting new volunteers from home too. It was great fun! Well…once we got going. We arrived in Siem Reap and traveled by 14 buses for about 3 hours to reach Battambang. Upon arrival, let’s just say the check in area was a little overwhelming…
We were welcomed to Cambodia with a dinner and presentation at the Governor’s Palace. We learned about the work of HFH Cambodia, enjoyed a good meal, and were treated to some traditional Cambodian music and dance!
The next morning, it was finally time to get started building those 23 homes. We loaded up our buses again and traveled about 20 minutes from the hotel to the work community – complete with police escort! There was more ceremony for us before the hard work started – HFH Cambodia presented each volunteer with a traditional scarf and then we gathered in the lunch tent for another presentation. Let’s just say that seeing so many people together in the same place at the same time for the same purpose was inspiring.
But when it really hit us all was when we were introduced to the 23 future-homeowners. Each family sent one person to the stage and two representatives were selected to give short speeches. They talked about how excited they were for this opportunity to own a home and how honored they were that we had volunteered to assist them. Their stories touched our hearts and motived us even more to do everything we could over the next 5 days.
After a little more pomp and circumstance, at last we were released to work! The 23 homes that would be built were located in two separate communities just a few minutes drive apart. My team set off for “Site 1”. Here we are….on our way…
On this site, 9 houses would be built – all on the same street. When we arrived, the foundations of the houses were complete and they also had a roof! The roof is usually put on last but because the weather forecast included rain, local workers put them on so that we could continue our work no matter what. No rest for the weary.
Our tasks over the 5 days included carrying lots buckets of mortar and sand as well as building all of the walls on each home. Toward the end of the week, we also prepared the floor and plastered the walls. The site was a buzz every day with ~100 people scurrying about. Just looking up and down the street you can tell how hard everyone was working.
Well, we were working hard until the donut lady showed up. 😉
Since finishing the houses by Friday was the goal, local workers helped to bring all of the houses to the same stage each evening. On the morning of the last day, we were ready to present the homes to the families! Everyone cleaned up their respective worksites, decorated the façade, and then (you guessed it!) held a short ceremony. We allowed the homeowners to cut the ribbon on their home and presented them with a group photo, gift basket and symbolic key before removing our shoes and becoming their first guests. We shared our thoughts with each other and celebrated this huge milestone together. Here’s an example of what one of the homes looked like when we were finished: It was an emotional but exciting week and looking back, it’s amazing to think about how much was accomplished! This was an incredible trip for many reasons and I’m so glad that I participated. Stories of our particular homeowner will follow soon. 🙂 🙂
***Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Cambodia for hosting this event and for the group photo included in the above post.