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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - From scrapheap to new houses

From scrapheap to new houses

Photo by: Ou Mom
Traditional chay yam performances of music and dance marked the opening of the first three homes to be completed by Habitat for Humanity. Above right, families who received keys to their new homes.

V OLUNTEERS from former slums, schools, companies and non-profit groups joined hands to celebrate the handover of three houses they built for former residents of Phnom Penh’s Steung Meanchey refuse tip.

The new homes are among 52 to be built in the latest project by Habitat for Humanity in Oudong, where the families were resettled in neighbouring Kandal province. Ten houses were now under construction, but more volunteers were needed to help finish the project over the next two years, said the group.

Another 21 homes built by the New Equity Association of Hope in the same area were opened last November by former United States president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.

Last week’s handover brought tears to the eyes of the three families when they were given ceremonial keys to their new brick-built houses.
“I’ve never had my own house before – I just used to rent a shack at the Steung Meanchey dump,”said new homeowner Chhun Vuy Leng. “When it rained, the old house flooded and we got skin infections. We had to live amid the stink and suffered a lot of infections,” he said.

“But now I’ve got a new house with a green environment around, and fresh air. I’d like to live here forever.”

His sentiments were echoed by another proud new homeowner, Rang Leng Eng. She said, tears welling up: “Thank you to everyone who helped build my house. Finally I can live in my dream home.”

The celebrations were launched with a performance of classic chay yam music, comedy and dancing. Those interested in building homes can spend half a day or more helping to build the houses, and don’t need any special skills or knowledge, according to Melissa Cronin, the communication officer of Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia.

However, there was always the chance for volunteers to learn new skills under the guidance of the group’s leaders, she added.

Even teenage students have helped lay bricks, as Northbridge International School student Roath Siv Kim found out. “When I helped build the houses this September, I found out the work was much harder than I expected. But I realised that I could help other people,” she said. “I felt happy when I understood that all my sweat was not useless.”

Another volunteer was a former Tonle Bassac shack dweller who has been rehoused in Phnom Penh’s Thmei commune in Sen Sok district.
Sor Sophors recalled her days living in a wooden shack under a thatched palm roof with a shudder. “When I used to live there, there was no security. I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid of burglars and the fire risk,” she said.

“And when friends asked me where I lived, I was too ashamed to tell them I lived in Sombuk Chab village – it was so embarrassing,” said the 28-year-old.

“Being poor and having lived in the same squatter conditions, I can understand the feeling of those who get the new houses,” said Sor Sophors, who is now working for International Coorperation Cambodia.

“Today my family has a better livelihood since we have an appropriate habitat. It helps my family and me to live with good sanitation and security, away from all the diseases. And because I’ve got no pressure, it helps me in my studies,” she said.

The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October as World Habitat Day, a call to people around the world to exchange ideas and promote the need and importance of housing. This year was the 27th annual Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project celebrating the event.

For more information on how to volunteer, contact Habitat for Humanity on 097 752 32 83 or 012 792 782.

TRANSLATOR: RAKSMEY HONG

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