2 more houses have been successfully built in Cambodia!
1. Built 2 more houses, just 500m from 2nd and 3rd house.
- 4th family is husband and wife with 3 kids, 12-18 approx, 1 off working in phonm penh. Grandma also lives with them
- 5th family is a single mum with 3 kids, newborn, vinchika 2, lisa 7
2. Visited 2018 families for update and gifts
- 2nd family were not there but because they all including the son have full time work in siem reap
- 3rd family is doing great, family extended on their house. Surrounding areas looking much better
3. Visited 1st family from 2017
- They are doing amazing, they were all their including kids (except the father). Kids were so excited to see us and we played games for hours. They ran and grabbed photos we gave them from year before when we got there
- Water well was broken
4. Fixed water well for first family
5. Possibly found location and 2 families for the 2 houses planned for 2020
In the lead up to our third visit to Cambodia we had the usual mixed feelings. We were both very excited but also a little scared. We are excited because we know we are going to meet new families, build two more houses and of course get to see our past families. But we are then also apprehensive about it. We never forget that we are going out in the middle of nowhere in a third world country with people that don’t really speak any English. We also wonder if they have forgotten who we are or how we will be welcomed into the new village?
For our first day we are going to out to the new village and start building both houses. This time we were already organised and had with us plenty of stuff for the kids and the families. Some of it we brought over but most of it from the local market.
We were so excited to see Sabet. Sabet is our amazing local contact who tries his best to translate for us and navigate us around safely, he has the biggest heart ever. He organises most of what happens while we are in Cambodia. He takes us to the local markets for supplies, arranges the builders, and most importantly makes us feel safe if anything were to happen.
Cambodians are not very affectionate but we always try to make a point of getting a proper hug out of Sabet. This time it was so exciting to see him waiting with open arms, initiating the hug! The apprehension about it all starts to settle as it begins to feel like home again.
We jump on the Tuk Tuk and make the long journey out to the village. When we got closer we recognised a lot from last year as these new families are only 500m from the two houses we built in 2018. We got so excited the closer we got as people came out from their houses, waving and yelling ‘hello’ from all directions. It is the most amazing feeling.
When we arrived at the first family there were approximately 15 people including the builders, and some of the family. This quickly grew to 20 – 25 people and they were all looking at us. It felt daunting for a brief moment but as soon as we smiled, 25 smiles and a slight nod of the head returned to us, it felt like home again.
We then met the first family, Cheuom Chunn and Sam Sokvanna and their three teenage kids. We took some photos and handed out drawing books and colouring pencils to the kids. We also found out that their Grandma lives with them too. The impact of this house is already going to be bigger than we thought. We hung out here while they started to dig the footings for the first house. It was so hot and not much shade in this spot so we spent a little bit of time drawing and playing with the kids before we moved onto the second house location.
The second family had tonnes of families and kids really close to them so there were a lot more people here. Some of which followed us from the first families location. There was a lot more shade here too so we set up a big matt and handed out more stuff to the kids. This family is a single mum named Mon Salon and she has three beautiful young kids. Their 2 year old Daughter Vinchika (November) was so scared of me at first, she would cry even when I looked at her!
I spent most the day digging the footings and helping lift the posts in while Hannah played with all of the kids which in the end was over 20 kids, all drawing and playing. I went back and forth between building and playing with the kids, mostly so I didn’t die from the heat! By the end of the first day both houses have the 9 posts in and the floor of the house is being started. In just one day most of the kids were hanging off us, we played games all day and also made note of how many kids and their approximate ages so we can go to the markets and get more things for tomorrow! We say approximate ages as we have found out over the years that some are not quite sure of their age, plus in Cambodia they have two ages. In some cases when they are born they are actually considered to being a one year old and not zero. Plus they add a year on when they celebrate the new year in April, it is a bit confusing through broken translation! In addition to that, they don’t have a ‘registry’ as such for births for everyone.
To start off day 2, Sabet took us to the local markets so we could buy all sorts of things for the kids. The local markets are always such an adventure as we are the only foreigners there. To date we have never even seen another foreigner there so we get a lot of people looking at us. It would be impossible at the markets if it wasn’t for Sabet! We bought so many things including soccer balls for the kids, all for ridiculously cheap. We would have purchased things for about 30 kids and spent about $150, we clean out some of the shops!
This time when we arrive at the village there are a lot more people and kids. It is amazing how fast word must spread around the village. The kids see all the bags and know we have things for them so they normally coming running up to the Tuk Tuk, we have to do our best to hide it all. We get all of the kids to sit on the matt again and hand out all the stuff to them. This is one of the most exciting parts as we can tell that a lot of the stuff they either don’t have, or have never even seen before. Seeing all of their smiles and excitement is one of the best feelings ever. We have realised that something as simple as a mirror or a sharpener is one of their favourite things! They normally hold onto most of their stuff and don’t want to use it until we all start. For kids that don’t have things to draw with normally or a TV, their drawing skills and imagination is incredible! They also normally teach us all types of different games they play with the minimum things they have. Sometimes it could be some rope with a thong tied to the end of it. The boys are also stoked we have soccer balls to kick around. Vinchika is also no longer crying when I look at her, it is my aim to get a hug out of her by the end of the trip.
In just two days we are already so close to these guys, it is an overwhelming feeling and we make sure Sabet makes it clear to them that we will be back. It is almost impossible to leave and some of them get a little upset. For this day we didn’t spend as long there as we wanted to also go and see our two families nearby from 2018.
As I mentioned earlier, when we go to see our past families we always get this weird feeling of wondering if they will remember us or not. These two houses and families were right next to each other and at first we don’t realise where we are. The surrounding area even looks different, areas have been cleaned up, the swamped area is all clean and one of the families has even slightly extended on their house!
To our excitement they do remember us and we find out that the second unfortunately isn’t there. The reason for this however is that the whole family now has full time jobs n Siem Reap. In just 1 year we are blown away to see how much both families lives have improved, and even those around them. I remember spending quite a bit of time just standing and staring at both houses, taking all of this in. We simply can’t believe it! Even within just a year it is also amazing to see how much some of the kids we were playing with last year have grown up!
Day 3 and this was the day we were most nervous for. The plan for today is to head out to see our first family from 2017, where it all began. We formed really close relationships with these guys and especially the kids from the surrounding area. Last year we were so excited, they were all there when we visited, but this time again we weren’t sure who would be there. Once again we bought so many things for them all, with the possibility of just leaving it at their doorstep if no one was around. We can’t exactly call them and tell them we are coming out to see them! These guys are in a village called Sososodom, which is even further away from Siem Reap.
In the very weird ways that the world works, as we get close to the house the mother of the family is walking in a field nearby, and even from a distance she recognises us and comes running! We can’t believe it! As we stop the Tuk Tuk we can also see further up the dirt road there is a group of young kids, Hannah and I look at each other and say, ‘surely that’s not them, what are the chances?’ The kids get closer and again to our surprise it is them and I can even hear some of the kids saying ‘Hannah, Hannah’. They cling to us immediately and guide us out through the flooded field to the house. The kids just power through flooded long grass like there isn’t anything to worry about. All we can think about is how dirty the water is and the potential dangers like snakes! As we got closer a couple of the kids ran off into their houses and within seconds return with something in their hands. It is the photos that we gave them last year from when we first met them in 2017, this is already getting emotional for us! Nita the baby girl from the family is no longer a baby and is now walking near the house with mum. Once again it amazing to see how much she has grown up!
We had originally only planned to be there for a short amount of time but we ended up staying all day with them, playing all sorts of games. I remember really trying to soak in the moments as I watched how genuinely happy they all were. The mum was so thankful for all of the gifts as was Nita who tried to hold all of her new toys at once, making sure none of the other kids touched them! This is the third year we have seen these guys and we truly feel like part of their family, something I find hard to put into words. Whilst there we find out that in the last floods their water-well stopped working so we make sure had organise someone to come out and fix it (cost us just $55). When it came time to leave we couldn’t hold the tears back. These are both happy and sad tears as we get hugs, including myself from all of the kids. I even get a little bit emotional when I write about it and re-live the moments. As we drive off the kids chase the Tuk Tuk up the road and we wave back to them off into the distance. It is a little easier knowing we will be back to see them again next year.
During this time, both of the new houses are coming along nicely. Sabet went back to take some photos and check on the progress. Both have a roof now and the walls and windows are being completed. This means both houses will be ready for completion and handover tomorrow.
For the final day we have a loooong list of things to buy. When we do the handover ceremony for the house we always have our standard things we give each family to get them started. Mosquito nets, pots and pans, 50kg of rice, utensils and bowls, but in addition to these we always get personal things for each person in the family. This means having to guess their sizes and make sure we don’t forget anyone. Once again we are spending peanuts to get all of these items.
We arrive at the 1st house and it is amazing, standing proud and tall, all freshly painted, it looks so good. The father comes running over still wearing his Marques Flooring shirt with the biggest smile on his face. He shakes my hand and helps carry all of the stuff from the Tuk Tuk. The house is completely finished and out of respect they don’t go inside until we do the ceremony, so they are eager to start. They lay out a matt in front of the house and we begin to hand over all of their gifts to each of them. The smiles and their excitement is one of my favourite parts of this. I then get Sabet to read out a translated message I wrote for them and we clap and cheer in celebration. Even their grandma got up and joined us! As I shake the hands of the father and hug in celebration I thought I might check if his foot size was similar to mine. It seemed too good to be true, so I undid my shoes and gave them to him as well. We took many photos and assured them that we would be back next year to see them again.
Onto the second family and we know this one will be a big one. In the time we have spent doing this we have become very close to all of the kids in all of the villages, but the kids in this village turned it up a notch. Her oldest daughter Lisa had the biggest smile you could ever imagine and she came running out the front to greet us, jumping up and down like the most excited kid you have ever seen. Vinchika, the one I would make cry even by looking at her is now my shadow, she follows me everywhere and always wants hugs, it is incredible. One of the older girls wrote Hannah a letter to say thank and please come back. There was also another younger girl who would laugh at everything and she remembered us from 2018, she was such a big bundle of joy. I had all the kids chasing me around trying to tickle me and tackle me to the ground; we are honestly like family with these guys. We had plenty of gifts to give these guys including other kids so we spend some time playing with them and handing out their gifts before starting the handover for the second house.
The handover is like before, many gather around as we hand over gifts. Lisa of course jumping up and down can’t contain her excitement as she receives each gift. We all celebrate and get photos and Lisa is already at the top of the stairs jumping up and down and dancing, I remember trying to take it all in, I really wasn’t looking forward to leaving these guys! Second house is now complete and now our fifth in total. But the big thing for me now is the 5 families, and their neighbours, all of these amazing people we never knew a few years ago, now we are like family.
We hug Lisa about 20 times as it is unfortunately time to leave. Once again we assure them we will be back next year.
We end the day by taking Sabet to some shops. We give him very good money to help us while we are in Cambodia but we always want to help him more, he does so much and never asks so we go to the shops to get his kids school uniforms and books as well as a few thing for him. Then, in what seems to be a yearly tradition we take him to a local restaurant to enjoy a well earned meal and of course a couple of 50 cent beers. When saying goodbye to Sabet he gave us many hugs and we all got a little bit emotional when in broken English he was telling us we are family and he will miss us.
We find ourselves back at our accommodation already planning for 2020. We can’t wait.