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Embracing a place called home

Children climb the stairs of the ‘Courtyard House’ in Phnom Penh
Children climb the stairs of the ‘Courtyard House’ in Phnom Penh. The house was one of three winners in the 2013 Future of Sustainable Housing in Cambodia competition. Building Trust International

Embracing a place called home

Before this past September, Nov Borom, a 52-year-old mother of five, lived with both a tenuous housing situation and HIV.

But through a collaboration of several NGOs who sought to provide Cambodia’s most vulnerable people with housing able to withstand the region’s rainy season and floods, she now calls a relatively sprawling 4-by-11-metre brick house in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district home.

“I am very happy that I am able to live in a home like this,” Borom said yesterday. “This is the first time in my life that I have had my own home since the Pol Pot regime.”

Borom, whose husband died in 2001, had lived in a small cottage house built on land owned by a pagoda in Meanchey district. The situation was such that her family could be thrown out of their meagre living space at any time, she said.

The ailing mother’s luck changed following results of the 2013 Cambodia Sustainable Housing International Design Competition held by Building Trust International, Habitat for Humanity Cambodia and Karuna Cambodia.

Along with assistance from representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Collective Studio and members of the Cambodian Society of Architects, the three NGOs challenged architects in October 2012 to imagine innovative housing designs that serve the needs of Cambodians living in poverty and disease.

“They’re pretty dramatically different because they were conceived by completely different designers and architects,” Don Boring, country director for Habitat, said in his Phnom Penh office yesterday.”

Since the contest, Habitat and the Housing Trust have maintained a relationship and will continue working together on projects, Boring said.

The competition attracted more than 600 entrees, whose submissions must be low-cost houses able to endure flooding and other weather concerns for Cambodian families, a statement from Building Trust says.

Early last year, the panel selected 10 winning designs, three of which have been built and are now occupied by villagers stricken with poverty and serious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, said Chhun Sona, a Habitat program manager.

Months before construction began, Borom was invited to select for herself which design best fit her needs, she said.

In addition to Borom’s house, the “Open Embrace” design, people have moved into one “Courtyard House” design and one “Wet and Dry House” design in Phnom Penh, Sona said.

With labour and other expenses, each house cost less than $3,300, said Kok Chandarith, a Habitat construction team leader.

All three designs move away from traditional material such as concrete and tin, into the direction of material such as bamboo and palm, a Housing Trust statement says.

Borom feels more at ease in her new, permanent home, she said. She looks forward to her children moving into the house.

“My children support me,” Borom said.

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