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A Cambodian thank-you for the Carters -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A Cambodian thank-you for the Carters

By Phillip Jordan

Nearly 3,000 people turned out for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s Saturday morning visit to the completed New Life Community in Cambodia’s Sra Por village.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, pose with Habitat home partners and volunteers during the couple’s trip to Cambodia. Mrs. Carter holds Paul, the infant son of new Habitat homeowner Hour Samnang. Habitat for Humanity/Mikel Flamm


Jimmy Carter smiles as he addresses new Habitat homeowners and volunteers at a special ceremony in Oudong, Kendal Province, Cambodia at the end of the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Habitat for Humanity/Mikel Flamm


The Carters walk hand in hand through the new Habitat community built in Oudong, Kendal Province, Cambodia. Habitat for Humanity/Mikel Flamm


A red carpet was rolled out for the Carters and for Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. Bunting, banners and hundreds of Cambodian flags rippled in a steady wind. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts welcomed the Carters; a children’s band played stringed instruments and sang.

“This is the greatest reception we’ve had anywhere in the world,” an upbeat Carter told the crowd. “For 26 years, my wife and I have gone to build Habitat homes. We’ve never had a more exciting ceremony than this one. And never have we been to a more beautiful place.”

Carter had everyone involved in the build week stand and give themselves a round of applause. “Most of all, I want to thank all the volunteers who built these beautiful homes,” he said.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the street’s entrance, the Carters, holding hands, visited briefly with each homeowner and took group photos with volunteers in front of the houses.

At Chea Marady’s house, the Carters stopped and went inside. “You did a good job,” Carter told the volunteers gathered around him. The former president was impressed with the stabilized-soil blocks used to build the houses here. “We should use these in other places,” he noted, inspecting the walls.

As the Carters moved on, taking a final photo with Habitat Cambodia staffers, Marady watched along with the rest of his family.

“I was surprised and excited that they wanted to come into my house,” Marady said. “I never thought such important people would ever come to my home. I’m just a simple guy.”

After volunteers boarded buses for the final time and the new community emptied out, a few new homeowners remained. The official move-in takes place November 25, but several families spent the afternoon here—the site finally quiet after a week of chaos and construction.

Yong Yeng held his 1-year-old daughter, Yeng Viyada on his front porch, talking softly to her as she took in her new surroundings.

Ros Saroun and Luek Yary laid out bamboo mats and had a small first meal with friends, sitting cross-legged on the floor as their 6-year-old daughter, Roun Nary, took a nap in the corner.

Malvin Pagdanganan is a construction coordinator for Habitat Cambodia. The families know him well; he knows their houses inside and out. Pagdanganan said he talked with several home partners after the volunteers left.

“One family asked me, ‘Is this our house now? I mean, it’s truly ours to use starting now?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Yes, it is. From now on, even I have to knock to come inside your home.’”

Phillip Jordan is a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International.