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A better place for Hout Tera -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A better place for Hout Tera

By Phillip Jordan

It is a central principle of Habitat’s ministry to include families in the building of their own homes—a partnership idea Habitat calls “sweat equity.”

Hout Tera, a member of one of 21 Habitat home partner families in Cambodia, helps build her new home. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Mikel Flamm


This week in Cambodia, that concept is a source of great joy for partner families and volunteers alike, as they have the opportunity to build, share and laugh alongside each other.

For many of the families, especially the women, that opportunity brings extra responsibility.

Children cannot be on the work site, of course, but Habitat set up a shelter close to the construction area where children can stay during the day. Relatives help keep watch, but some mothers need their youngsters nearby; among the 21 families moving here, there are seven babies under the age of 1. For several of the women, break time on the build site means nursing time for their children.

Hout Tera, 23, is one of those mothers.

Her husband left her this year, just after she gave birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter named Da Lali. Tera also has a 5-year-old daughter named Srey Pov.

The build site’s environment is a far cry from the Steung Meanchey dump. Tera visited with Habitat staff several days before the build began in front of her old home. Tera’s hair, wet with sweat, was up in a clip. Ten-month-old Da Lali rocked in a worn, green hammock.

Srey Pov stood by her mother’s side. She shyly smiled and tugged on Tera’s arm when asked if she was excited about the new home, which will be built alongside a new home for her grandparents. Tera encouraged her daughter to recite the English words she had learned in school, and Srey Pov softly obliged, pointing as she spoke: “Ear. Nose. Eye. Mouth.”

“I don’t know if it’s right!” Tera admitted in her native Khmer, laughing.

“I would like for them to become doctors or English teachers in the future,” Tera said of her children. “I don’t know if they can do that, but I hope they can do more than me.”

The trio lives with Tera’s mother, Sam Lao, and father, Hout Da, a shoe repairman. Ten people stay in Hout Da’s one-room, wood-plank house right now; the number fluctuates because the couple usually takes in anyone in need. The home usually smells of the glue Hout Da uses to repair shoes.

“My father works very hard and is a good worker,” Tera says. “He works until very late at night and then gets up early again the next day to make shoes.”

Tera is one of many who have made a living scavenging the dump for items they can salvage and resell. She says that was fine when she was younger and on her own. Now that she has daughters, Tera worries for their health. They both have had frequent respiratory problems and bouts with diarrhea.

“And I have to leave the baby at home with others while I go out and work, and I sometimes get hot and don’t feel well,” she says. “When I nurse my baby, the baby gets sick.”

Last week, when Tera was told of preparations at the New Life Community build site, she sat back in her chair and smiled. She then looked down at the small bag of pills in her hand—anti-diarrheal pills she was about to give to her youngest daughter.

“I am most excited because I think the fresh air will improve our health,” she said. “I know this will be a better place.”

Once she saves enough money, Tera hopes to have her own spot at a market in Oudong, near the new community. Tera hopes her aunt, who sells meat and vegetables, will teach her how to start a similar business.

For now, she will focus on the present. On Tuesday, Tera could smile because she was helping to build her own better place—and a new future for her children.

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