The Big Issue : Edition 475
THEBIGISSUE9–22JAN2015 19 HOW DID I end up building a house in Cambodia with a group of people I’d never met? Last year when my husband and I celebrated significant birthdays, we compiled a list of things we’d like to do. Not a bucket list; just the ‘Big 50’ list. Volunteering to build a home overseas with the Habitat for Humanity organisation was on my list. There were eight of us on the Cambodia trip – both men and women ranging in age from our twenties to sixties, and of varying fitness levels. We were to build a house for a family affected by HIV/AIDS, just outside of Phnom Penh. Our first day was spent getting to know each other while visiting the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. These places were confronting and upsetting, but they served to remind us of Cambodia’s tragic history and highlight the tremendous struggle that Cambodians have had. It also went some way to explain why many Cambodians live in substandard conditions. The next five days we spent building a house for a family of seven – a small brick building with a metal roof and a small septic toilet at the back. The local skilled workers taught us how to mix cement, lay bricks and a concrete floor, and install windows and doors. It was hot, the work was physical and we definitely felt like we’d laboured hard by the end of the day. If it got too much, we were able to sit in the shade where cold drinks and wet towels were always on offer. None was also now able to send her children to school and university. The last day of the build involved handing over the house to the family. It was a wonderful and emotional occasion – a memory I will treasure. I met some wonderful people, and had many warm conversations with new friends – often while sitting tired and dirty on the return bus. I made friendships with Cambodians unlike any I would have as a tourist; some of whom still make funny comments on my Facebook photos. It sounds like a cliché, but there comes a time when we realise how very fortunate we are and want to give back, to contribute, and we find the time in our lives to do it. Building a house for a family in need was a truly wonderful way to do that. I feel so much gratitude for what I have, and the small way I was able to help someone else. » Sue Roswell is a Brisbane-based architect. For more details visit habitat.org.au. of us had any building skills, just a willingness to learn and work. Being an architect with experience in the building industry, I was looking for working drawings – well, any drawings really – and wondering when the bracing, tie-downs and reinforcing was going to appear. But I put knowledge and ego aside. The Cambodians have very different priorities. The focus was on using locally produced materials and traditional building methods. The result was a socially viable and economically sustainable home. They had a different way of building, of organising things and of working together. I learned to respect those cultural differences and realised that, despite all those things, what was important was the achievement. A very low cost house – a safe place to live and raise a family with a roof, concrete floor and access to water. One afternoon, after we’d knocked off, we were taken to visit some houses built by Habitat volunteers a year or two earlier. One of these homes was almost completely full of crickets. The homeowner had started her own business, farming crickets to sell at the markets. (I can attest they are delicious when stir-fried with garlic and fish sauce and are a very good source of protein). Her life had changed so much – from living at a dumpsite, to having a safe home and supporting herself. Another homeowner we visited described how she was also producing things to sell, and was able to buy the adjacent block and grow chickens and vegetables. She PHOTOGRAPHBYiSTOCK A Good Foundation SUE ROSWELL WENT TO CAMBODIA TO BUILD A HOUSE IN A POOR COMMUNITY. HER EXPERIENCE – LI KE OTHERS PARTAKING IN THE ‘VOLUNTOURISM’ MOVEMENT – WENT WELL BEYOND THAT OF A TYPICAL HOLIDAY.