Overcoming challenges to make a difference

By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International CEO




On one of the last days of our trip, I left our Hope Journey group during a rest break to meet with and thank our Habitat Cambodia staff. They are doing remarkable work with limited resources and are modeling many of the themes emphasized in our new strategic plan. In addition to building homes and communities, Habitat Cambodia is:

  • Helping families become more resilient to the flooding that has become an annual event in many parts of the country.
  • Working with women and children impacted by HIV.
  • Providing savings and housing finance programs and construction technical assistance to assist families in making quality home improvements.
  • Partnering with communities to improve access to clean water and sanitation.

Many of the staff members from Habitat Cambodia have overcome significant challenges to make a difference and I have been inspired by their commitment, resilience and sacrifice. Coolra, a contract photographer, lost his parents at a young age and was transferred to various foster homes as a child. As a teenager, he got a job as a janitor at an advertising agency and taught himself photography. He soaked up as much as he could from professionals in the office. Habitat hired him not because he had a difficult childhood, but because he is an excellent photographer.

Sokha, our project manager for water and sanitation, gave me permission to share his story. He grew up during the civil war and suffered under Pol Pot’s pogroms. There was never enough food and he was nearly killed twice by Khmer Rouge soldiers. One day, he and some other young boys were starving and stole some cassava. They were caught, roped together, marched to the center of the community and lined up. One by one, the boys were killed—beaten with a bamboo pole and pushed into an irrigation pond. Sokha was number 13 in line. Number 11 was killed and then there was a report that nationalist soldiers were in the area. Number 12 fell sideways onto Sokha instead of into the water. The soldiers stabbed Sokha in the head with a bayonet and then ran off, leaving him for dead. He and two other boys managed to survive.

When the war ended, he was able to go back to school. He walked the seven miles to class every day, eventually worked his way through college and ultimately earned a PhD in community development so that he can be a part of rebuilding his country. So what have you complained about today?

It is truly humbling and inspiring to see firsthand the work these teams are doing in the most challenging circumstances. It certainly puts my small problems in perspective.

Day 1: Building in Cambodia
Day 2: Pointing bricks and putting God’s love into action

Day 3: Continuing the Cambodia Hope Journey

Day 4: Habitat Cambodia responds to water and sanitation needs

Reflections from a Hope Journey Team Member