banner image
A new life is almost ready in Cambodia -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A new life is almost ready in Cambodia

By Phillip Jordan

When Ros Saroun looks at the Habitat for Humanity build site in Cambodia, he doesn’t view the scene through his eyes alone. He sees it for the future it can provide his 6-year-old daughter, Roun Nary.

“Everything is for my daughter,” he says. “When she is older, I will tell my daughter how I got this house and what we all did here to make it happen. In the future, I will be able to give this house to my daughter.

Eagk Srey Hak operates a food shop in front of her house near the Steung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh. "I am very happy to be part of this project and fresh air that is in Oudong,” she says.

“I am ready as soon as possible to move from here and start a new life. … I plan to set up this shop there and hope to do a good business."


“And, hopefully, when she finishes school, I will be able to ask her what she wants to do with her life—and she will be able to do it.”

Saroun, 37, is one of 21 homeowners whom Habitat Cambodia is partnering with during the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. All of the families moving here previously lived near the Steung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh—a dump that absorbed nine tons of garbage a day.

That garbage provided a livelihood for many of the families living nearby; parents and children alike scavenged for items they could salvage and sell. Many who are now Habitat partner families made a living by repairing shoes found at the dump.

That living came at a cost. The rotting stench and stinging smoke constantly rising from the dump caused health problems. The dump was officially closed by the city in July, but even now, the ground nearby seems to move—alive with flies, fleas and putrid streams of water.

It seems fitting, then, that the 21 families moving to the new Habitat site in Oudong city have named their neighborhood the New Life Community. It is situated in Sra Por village, about 45 kilometers—and seemingly a world away—from the dump.

There is no garbage around the build site. Immediately to the west, rice fields stretch to the horizon. Just a couple of kilometers to the east, four temple tops rise from Preas Reachtrop Mountain. The temples house the remains of several Cambodian kings, and the earliest structures on the hill date to the 13th century.

Today—four days before volunteers begin building—scores of construction workers, Habitat staffers and partner family members are busy preparing each house site for the volunteers arriving in the coming week.

The foundations have been laid, toilets have been constructed and water cisterns have been placed at each house. All that remains is for volunteers and family members to build a house atop each foundation.

Indeed, the impending arrival of more than 200 international volunteers has buoyed the spirits of the family members. Saroun says he is excited to see all the people coming to Oudong. “I’m not going to get tired with all these new people coming to help soon,” he says. “I will enjoy working with them too much.”

Today he is helping mix mortar at the site. Wearing a white, floppy hat to keep the searing sun off his face in the 95-degree (35 degrees Celsius) heat, Saroun stirs a mud-and-water mixture to create the right consistency. He quickly shovels enough mortar to fill three buckets and carries them where they’re needed.

Back in Phnom Penh, near the old dump, Mrs. Eagk Srey Hak, 40, says she, too, is eager to move to Oudong. Five years ago, Srey Hak quit collecting trash at the dump and opened a small shop in front of her plank-board house, selling food and personal items. In Oudong, she plans to open a new shop—with even more merchandise.

“I’m most excited about the fresh air,” she says. “The new houses are going to be so beautiful. It’s not too far from the city, but there is no pollution there.”

Srey Hak has two children: Pon Supara and Pon Sunalee. What are they most excited about?

“Same as their mother!” Srey Hak says with a laugh. “They are excited. They have gone four or five times with me to the new site and can’t wait to see their new home.

“I am very ready to work on my new house. It will be something I will do with my whole heart—because I know it will be my family’s own home that I help build.”

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

More stories