By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International CEO
Our Cambodia Hope Journey trip is off to a great start. It is blazing hot, but the group is in great spirits.
Yesterday, we had an orientation session with our Habitat Cambodia leaders and visited the Killing Fields museum, the notorious prison where so many were tortured and sent off to be executed. We then visited the Killing Fields memorial.
It is heartbreaking to comprehend the scope and brutality of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot who wanted to “purify” Cambodian society, yet it is so important to remember. With an entire generation massacred, the median age in Cambodia is 22, the median income less than $2 a day. Despite these very challenging conditions, we’ve been so impressed with the resilience and graciousness of the people we’ve met so far.
We began today by visiting several slum areas to get a context for the housing need in Phnom Penh. We visited Meng Nat, one of the home partners we are building with, in the 2-square-meter shack she rents with her family atop polluted, stagnant water. The shack is made of zinc and pieces of scrap wood, and you can see the water through the sticks that make up the floor. Meng Nat told me that in the rainy season, the water rises and floods the room, so they have to stand through the night and cannot sleep.
Meng Nat is 42. Her husband has a mental illness and cannot work, so she is supporting her family despite living with HIV. To afford medicine, they were forced to sell their small home and move into the slum. The living conditions mean that her children — ages 13, 12 and 2 — are frequently sick.
In partnership with an HIV support NGO, Habitat is providing homes for Meng Nat and other vulnerable families. Meng Nat’s children have not been able to attend school, but that will change when they move into their new home.
The foundation of the house was in place when we began this morning. The walls are now head high and the windows are set. Meng Nat told me at the end of the day that she “never dared to dream of having her own home, but now it seems real.”
Day 2: Pointing bricks and putting God’s love into action
Day 3: Continuing the Cambodia Hope Journey 
Day 4: Habitat Cambodia responds to water and sanitation needs 
Day 5: Overcoming Challenges to Make a Difference 
Reflections from a Hope Journey Team Member