By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International CEO
On our last day together on the Hope Journey to Cambodia, we traveled to the community of Trokiet, about an hour and a half from Siem Reap. We started in our mini bus and then had to switch to smaller cars due to the condition of the road.
Habitat for Humanity originally began work in this area building homes, but the community came together and said their greatest need was around water and sanitation. So, we have adapted the program to respond to the need. In rural Cambodia, only 18 percent of families have toilets or latrines. The majority of people must go out into the woods or fields, which is unhealthy for them and the broader community as it leads to polluted water and the spread of disease. At the school we visited, we asked for a show of hands, and only 17 of 166 children had a toilet or latrine at their home.
The children welcomed us and we had a parade to the school. They had made posters and slogans around healthy practices, and a remarkably poised sixth-grade girl led chants for the benefit of the village around their commitment to changing practices for personal health.
We arrived at the school and participated in a training event with the students. They reinforced the key practices around the proper use of toilets (Habitat built toilets for the school along with a water catchment system to augment the well in the dry season) and then we did a hand washing training. Different children came up and demonstrated the six steps for properly washing hands. We then taught children how to clip their nails to make it easier to keep their hands clean.
Several older children presented posters they had made that showed good and poor health practices. One showed a house with trash strewn around the yard and an open water container that was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The other side showed a clean yard and covered container. The next group showed food being covered with a mesh screen to keep insects off. After a series of these presentations, we had a spirited Q&A time. If students got the questions right, they won prizes of a bar of soap or a toothbrush and toothpaste. Finally all the kids received a bar of soap and lunch.
We've seen around the world that the learning process is as important as the physical facilities for sanitation. The facilities are wasted without the culture change that has to be owned by the community. I thanked the students for being such effective teachers and challenged them to teach their families as well.
We also had the opportunity to visit partner families with different kinds of water and sanitation solutions. I was most moved by meeting Mr. Phon, who partnered with Habitat to build a well three years ago on the condition that he would share the water with others in the community. Mr. Phon lost one leg and his eyesight due to a land mine. Despite his disabilities, he personally built cisterns and a piping system to irrigate a large garden. We learned that a Habitat staff member had been able to get Mr. Phon to an eye hospital in Siem Reap where he had successful cataract surgery that restored 50 percent of his vision in one eye and 30 percent in the other.
Mr. Phon encouraged us to sample his delicious custard apples and to admire his eggplants, papaya and other vegetables. One of our team members from Phnom Penh was in tears because she had been here three years ago when there was no water, no garden and no sight, and this was the first time she had been back to the community. She was overwhelmed with how a small investment could make such a massive impact on livelihood and health. Our goal is that every family in the community will have a toilet or latrine and safe drinking water within two years.
It has been an exceptional trip. I love introducing people to Habitat's work, and the group has engaged with great energy and spirit. We have laughed and cried together, and everyone will have some great memories. We've eaten very well and tried some local delicacies. After getting over the visuals, I enjoyed tarantula and fried cricket, and the dried snake was outstanding. We traveled by ox cart, tuk-tuk, elephant and more conventional means. We were also blessed to spend a day at Angkor Wat, learning about one of the great ancient civilizations of the world.
Despite all that, when I asked team members what they would remember most, each responded that the highlight was the opportunity to build with and engage the partner families and community. I will always remember the warmth, gracious hospitality and extraordinary resilience of the families we got to know and look forward to the day I can return and visit them again.
Day 1: Building in Cambodia 
Day 2: Pointing bricks and putting God’s love into action 
Day 3: Continuing the Cambodia Hope Journey 
Day 5: Overcoming Challenges to Make a Difference 
Reflections from a Hope Journey Team Member