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Determination to change in Cambodia -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Determination to change in Cambodia

By Mikel Flamm

Growing up in war-torn Cambodia was a challenge for Chea Marady, 33, but it was not the only one he faced. As a survivor of child polio, he has refused to be held back by disability or hardship.

Chea Marady fixes radios to support his family


“I am determined to work and do not wish for people to feel sorry for me,” he says. “My disability is on the outside. But in my heart, I know that I can do what I set my mind to.”

Marady is one of 20 partner homeowners who will move into new homes as part of the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Marady and his older brother once lived in the Stung Meanchey dumpsite, setting up a makeshift shelter of discarded wood and old plastic with a dirt floor. When it rained, rats often took refuge inside the hut.

Marady and his brother survived by rooting through the streets of Phnom Penh to collect anything salvageable: bottles, cans, plastic and metal. Because walking was difficult for him, Marady used a wooden push cart on his rounds.

“It was often too dangerous to return at night to my home,” he says. “So after I filled up the cart, I would park it in as safe a place I could find and sleep under the cart.

“But I knew I wanted to do more,” he adds. “I saw that some of the people in the community were repairing old shoes collected at the dumpsite.”

Marady taught himself how to repair shoes, and earned enough money to survive on through selling at the local markets each week. But still he wished he could find a job that would feel like an accomplishment.

He discovered a nearby school, funded by a Swiss foundation, that provided free education to families who were living in the dumpsite.

“I decided to learn how to repair radios, TVs and appliances,” Marady says.

Unable to afford to start his own repair business, though, Marady continued to fix shoes and sell them in the markets, earning about $100 a month.

“I knew I could make enough to live on,” he says. “But my heart was always to own my repair business one day.”

Once Marady was selected to be a partner homeowner in this year’s Carter Work Project, he made the bold decision to follow his dreams of a better future for himself, his wife, Suong Sarom, and their 2-year-old daughter, Hout Sreyha.

In June 2009, the small family moved to a community near the site where 20 families will have new homes after this year’s Carter Work Project.

“I wanted to establish myself in this community before we move our new homes,” says Marady, thinking like an entrepreneur.

In May, Habitat for Humanity staff and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers built a test house in Cambodia, in preparation for the upcoming Carter Project. Marady was there to help clean the inside of the finished house. After making sure the floor was scrubbed clean, he grabbed a broom and swept the outside of the house.

“I really like it here in this community,” he said at the time.

One month later, he set up shop at Dhama Sarak Phnom Ban in Oudong, Kandal Province, 40 kilometers from Phnom Penh. A table full of radios sits out front near the main road, below a sign that says, “TV repair.”

Customers began bringing DVD players, TVs and stereos that needed repair. Marady now makes up to $6 per day—almost doubling the family income.

“I am very happy to be here with my family,” he says. “My daughter is healthier out here, away from the bad air of the dumpsite, and I am doing what I like to do.

In a few months, Srey will give birth to our second child, and we will have a new house to live in,” he continues. “I am so happy now.”

Mikel Flamm is a photographer in Asia/Pacific.

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from Srok Por village, Cambodia.