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Building with my dad in Cambodia

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!
 

Comments

Steve Hennessy wrote:

Lily, your Dad sent me your blog and I just finished reading it. You did a terrific job summarizing the high points of the trip. I'm afraid my picture of you and your "Hurricane" never reached you. I am going to keep trying until I get it sent properly. Loved being with you in Cambodia.

Virginia Keagle wrote:

Lily, you ROCK for such a young woman, you are learning things most do not and working alongside your dad is just awesome. Welcome to Habitat!

Robins Duncan wrote:

That's like living the experience to it's fullest, helping somebody in need and being part of his life is the greatest message Habitat teaches you. You have passed with flying colours. God Bless You!

Tricia Anderson wrote:

Lily,
Just finished reading your blog, and it is just wonderful to see how much you all accomplished on your trip. It also brought back a ton of good memories -- I went with the Pace Academy build team to Cambodia this past March. Thank you for writing about your experiences -- I hope you can share this with many many people when you get back to school. See you soon!
Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Matilda Louree wrote:

Lily,

What a summer to remember! I was touched by your article and I know you will look back at journal for years to come.

May the memories and experience continue to bring you great joy.

Blessings on you.

Lee Martin wrote:

I was sent your blog yesterday and have so enjoyed reading about your experience. Please do take these stories back to your friends at school. If we can encourage other young leaders to take up the challenge to impact another person's life what a world it would be!

Nancy Davis wrote:

Hi Lily - I joined Habitat last November in the Washington DC area and haven't been on a build outside the US yet. I received a copy of your blog through work today and your pictures and descriptions really made the experience come alive for me! It will definitely help me in my work, and I look forward to meeting you in the months to come! Best, NLD

Kurt Newton wrote:

Lily, thank you for your excellent blog! Your thoughtful insights about the Cambodian people, their history and the living conditions of so many of them give me hope for our younger generations! I hope you do another GV build next year! I was in Cambodia for a GV build in 2012.

Carolyn Graham ... wrote:

Lily, you have so many talents, including bricklaying (wait til you get to do adobe/ mud brick in another country or maybe find out that you also love roofing); truly connecting with people; and such great writing. Thanks you for the gift of your passion and blog.
Please tell your parents one thing for me: Lily should do this again (wherever/whenever she wants!).
Please tell your dad one thing for me: Lily has provided the best kind of explanation of the Habitat volunteer experience to capture our hearts. GO HABITAT !

Padraic Baxter wrote:

Lily, I just finished reading and have the chills! I am so proud of you and the work you and your Dad did in Cambodia. Thanks for your story and especially the part about the rainstorm during the dedication. Just Awesome! Thank you for sharing.....

Susan Baxter wrote:

Lily,
What a great experience for you and the whole team. You did a wonderful job documenting the trip...the pictures, emotions, and fun. Thank you so much for sharing, so the rest of us could feel a little part of it.

Laurie Peterson wrote:

Lily, We just read your wonderful blog. Definitely just the way we like it! Thank you for sharing with everyone. We felt like we had a short trip to Cambodia and appreciate even more the mission of Habitat.
Thanks again.

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