By Lily Reckford
Editor’s note: Earlier this month, eighth grader Lily Reckford built with her dad, Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford in Cambodia. This is how their trip went.
This summer my dad and I traveled to Cambodia with Habitat for Humanity on a Hope Journey. There were some really difficult moments like visiting the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields and seeing families living in horrible conditions in slums. We were also able to visit a school and a thriving community with 400 completed Habitat homes. The best part was building a new Habitat house with our team of volunteers and Soy Lorng and her family. Here my dad and I are planting a mango tree at a house dedication to symbolize new growth. When we started the trip, my dad asked everyone to adopt the attitude of “That’s just the way I like it.” This means if you ever complain, you have to add on “…and that’s just the way I like it!” For example: “It is so hot out here I’m sweating like crazy, but you know that is JUST the way I like it!” This always provided a good laugh and just made the whole experience more fun.
Part of the trip was visiting an elementary school. It was one of many water and sanitation projects Habitat has developed and provided clean water for all of the kids and teachers. In a rural area like this, very few families have access to clean drinking water, and only 18 percent have access to sanitation. We got to play Cambodian games with all of the kids. It was a very heartwarming experience and one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Two years ago my dad and brother took a similar trip to Cambodia and built a house with a woman named Meng Nat and her family. We all got to go visit their home and see how the family was doing. My dad said everyone seemed much healthier since the last time they had visited. My heart melted as soon as I laid eyes on this little girl who is Meng Nat’s daughter. Her name is Sin Sineh, and she now has a future to dream about. Habitat is constantly working to make the lives better of those in poverty. It’s great to see with my own eyes all of the wonderful work Habitat is doing and how impactful this organization really is.
On a visit with another family, we got to see how far a Habitat loan can take you. The family’s first house (pictured on the left) was built out of thatched palm leaves and was not very durable or sturdy. It was also subject to flooding. This family took out a Habitat home loan and was able to build a new raised wooden house in traditional Khmer style. What a difference for health and safety.
Before our build began, we also visited the house and community where Soy Lorng lived. She was soon to be a new Habitat homeowner. The conditions she and her family were living in were some that no one should ever have to deal with. Soy Lorng lived with her mom, 14-year-old son, and 12-year-old daughter on an empty lot near a garbage dump. Her husband passed just a month before our visit. Basically all of their belongings were on a platform, and they had positioned a tarp overhead. On rainy nights everyone got soaked, and the “roof” threatened to blow off at any moment. Visiting this community made building a house for them all that much sweeter.
Although my dad helped with laying bricks, cement work and plastering are his true calling. My new friend Larissa and I are the master bricklayers. This was our job the entire build. It was really fun to work as a team with all the volunteers and the masons. It really brought everyone closer together. Our skilled workers were wonderfully patient and made sure everything was just right.
Even though I mostly plastered and laid bricks, I also had to mix some cement. I wanted to prove to my brother that I was strong enough to endure the harder building tasks. Even though it was as hot as it gets on the build days, it just felt good to know that you are doing such a wonderful thing for someone else. I really enjoyed the build days and working together with everyone. I also enjoyed making bead bracelets and necklaces with Soy Lorng’s daughter Kolab (whose name translates into English as Rose) and other children from the community.
We took a break to get ice cream. I love ice cream. I always have and I always will. There is a place in Cambodia called the Blue Pumpkin that has great ice cream. We came here one day and everyone ordered some. My dad and Bells (the Resource Development Director for Habitat Cambodia) started speaking with Theara, the cashier. What made this tasty treat even sweeter was when we found out she was a Habitat homeowner. She got excited when she noticed the logo on my dad’s shirt.
At the end of the build, the dedication was exceptionally sweet. The looks on the family members’ faces were priceless. They were just so filled with joy by the prospect of a new house and actually being in it. We all said a few words about our experiences and some tears were shed. We all took jasmine and lotus blossoms and threw them in the middle of the house over the family. Then everyone sang and danced in a circle. It was a really great moment to be a part of.
The best part is now the family has a decent and safe place to live. They finally have a roof over their heads and know they will be safe. Soy Lorng had told my dad that she stood up most of the night before the dedication of her home, trying to keep the tarp from coming apart. During the dedication a big rainstorm blew in. She was so excited because when we went inside no water came in. She was dry and safe. This was so different from any other experience I have ever had. It really makes you think about everything you take for granted. I don’t even think about the fact that my house is dry when it rains, and I always have a roof over my head, food to eat, and clean water to drink. It’s amazing how much a Habitat house can change people’s lives. All in all, I definitely had a fantastic time, and I would love to take part in another Habitat trip next year. How many kids can say that they have ridden an elephant and tasted a tarantula! Even though it was boiling hot the entire trip and my food range was stretched, unquestionably this was just the way we liked it!