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Taking initiative -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Taking initiative

By Phillip Jordan

Home partner Chea Chandy totes a bucket of mortar to help construct what will become his new Habitat home. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Mikel Flamm


Chea Sopha might have the dirtiest scrub brush in Sra Por village.

Each time the crew on her house finishes a row of blocks, Sopha follows behind—using her battle-tested red brush to scour the wall, meticulously wiping away excess dried mortar. The resulting tidy lines of mortar give the house a clean look.

Sopha’s husband, Chandy, is the community leader for the 21 families moving to this new site in Oudong. He is a blur of motion on the build site: lifting blocks, laying mortar and constantly seeking new observation posts to ensure the house is rising in straight lines.

They are just one example of how families here are already taking ownership of their new homes in a very real sense.

Chandy says the volunteers have made it easy for them to do so.

“I am very fortunate,” he said. “I have a good house leader and very smart volunteers. And they don’t want to stop working!”

One volunteer working on Chandy’s house fainted from the heat Monday. Chandy did not expect him to come back. “But he did,” Chandy says. “And he has been working just as hard. I can never slow down with all these people helping. I would feel bad if I didn’t do what I can to make my house look as good as possible.”

Two doors down, Eagk Srey Hak is also paying close attention to the smallest details on her home. Stray blocks quickly find a home back on the main pile where others can quickly reach them. Srey Hak gets down on her hands and knees to sweep the floor anytime there’s a break in the action—using a small hand-held broom to wipe the floor clean.

“This doesn’t tire me at all,” Srey Hak says, climbing down from scaffolding where she’s been helping spread mortar. “I have a new house, and I have many people who came to help! I am just one person of many.”

Further down the street, homeowner Ros Saroun notices a small line of blocks to the right of his front window that slants just a bit. It will take a few extra minutes to remove the blocks and re-apply mortar to balance the row. But it’s better than realizing the problem several rows higher.

Andrew Lasseter, a house leader working on Saam Sue and Ly Peab’s house, says volunteers notice how conscientious the homeowners already are.

“You can tell Sue’s going to take care of his house,” Lasseter says. “He runs around all the time, checking on everything and helping wherever he’s needed. Not that we needed any more motivation, but he certainly provides it.”

And now that the walls are completely finished, families can truly start to see themselves living in their new homes.

Srey Hak has her storage space arranged in her mind and knows how she can use her living room as a second bedroom when guests stay.

Chandy and Sopha know where they will put their bed and how they will hang their curtains for the windows. They also have decided they want to grow flowers on the side of their house. Sopha plans to run a community coffee shop off the back of their house. She thinks the flowers will look good for customers.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Sopha says. “I am very thankful, too. I know we could not have done it without all the people who have come to help.”

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