Towards Resilience with Grace in Cambodia
ជំរាបសួរ <Chom Reap Sour, Hello> all the way from Cambodia!
The Habitat Singapore team had the privilege to visit the housing work being done in Battambang and Siem Reap earlier in the month to commemorate the close of a huge collaboration with Habitat Cambodia: The Grace Project!
Spanning across 5 years (2017-2022), the Grace Project was set up by Habitat Singapore and Habitat Cambodia to support 1,500 families with intense housing needs living in the provinces of Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap.
Many of these families live illegally on land which do not belong to them and face a high risk of forced eviction. Some families own land deeds but may be incredibly vulnerable. Examples include widows, elderly persons, persons with disabilities or victims of abuse, trafficking, or landmines.
As such, the Grace Project aimed to provide varying types of support with the goal of uplifting families in a sustainable manner which can last them through the long term:
🏠 Provision of adequate housing – House building and community planning
👩🏫 Training on home maintenance, planning for family development, basic financial literacy, hygiene
💰 Micro-grants to give families an uplift in their livelihoods
💧 WASH – Create access to clean water and sanitation systems
💪 PASSA - Training and micro-grants which equips volunteers to disaster-proof their communities
Here is the low-down on some of the projects we were able to visit!
1. 🏠 House Building and Upgrading for vulnerable families in Cambodia
Under the Grace Project, over 1000 homes have been built and upgraded for vulnerable families and homeowners living in indecent housing conditions. These include:
• Victims of abuse, trafficking, landmines
• Persons with chronic illnesses or disability
• Widows/Women-headed households
• Elderly persons
• Vulnerable children
… which make it incredibly high-risk for them to be living in poorly constructed homes with limited shelter from the rain and scorching sun; dirt floors which can easily spread diseases; no access to clean water and sanitation.
A Habitat home aims to solve these fundamental issues of survival, so that the family can have increased capacity to focus on other aspects of life, such as their livelihoods.
For example, this family of four living in Battambang, consisting of a widow, her young daughter and her elderly parents were previously living in a small house constructed from old zinc, palm leaves, broken wood and some bamboo parts.
They had no access to a proper toilet, electricity and clean water. Farmers by trade, their main source of income was previously unsuccessful too.
Habitat worked alongside the family to upgrade their existing home, building above their existing structure so that they can have proper shelter to sleep and live. A toilet was built, and the home was connected to electricity and a clean water source. The old home was repurposed for other functions, such as an expanded kitchen.
Beyond housing, the family was also recipient of a micro-grant which, alongside training, gave them the necessary uplift in improving their agricultural livelihood.
We were heartened to hear that their first harvest post Habi-house was successful, and that they were starting their second harvest!
The housing need in Cambodia might be a mammoth task to tackle, but Habitat is committed to working with homeowners to develop sustainable solutions for their challenges faced.
2. 🐟 PASSA – Empowering Communities to Take Charge
The Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness (PASSA) adopted by Habitat for Humanity seeks to empower communities to take charge over developing their own disaster solutions.
In Cambodia, volunteer committee members from the community are equipped with training and a starting micro-grant to give them a kickstart in giving their innovative ideas life.
Being community-centered is the key here. As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. The people who live there know their needs best, and the ultimate goal is to cultivate strong ownership within the community and eventually pass on the baton fully.
We met a PASSA group in Battambang which focused on fish conservation in the 3 rivers that run through the area. With heavier fishing activity being done upstream, low-income villagers who live downstream face the risk of not having enough fish for their own nutrition. The PASSA grant was thus used to develop proactive solutions to curb the risk of food scarcity downstream.
Leveraging on Cambodia’s drastic low/high water levels in the dry/rainy seasons, the PASSA group set out to dig a deep pond at the start of the river to ensure the survival of the fish during the dry seasons when the river level subsides. When the rainy season begins again, fish from the pond can flow back into the river.
They also installed a sentry post and streetlamps to guard the pond from thieves.
Even more heartening is the group’s drive to raise their own funds for the project’s expansion. Through outreach within the community and donation tins in temples, they managed to purchase a boat to survey the rivers and the safety of the fish.
We are excited to see how PASSA enables communities to thrive. Food and disaster security, community spirit – we believe it is these things which can help make a place of mere shelter, a home.
3. 👨👩👧👦 Social Housing: Dignified Solutions for Mass Resettlements
Cambodia is a fast-developing nation. Over the last few years, massive land development projects have taken place. This is an important and necessary phenomenon for national growth.
However, there are around 150k residents who live informally on land which do not belong to them. Communities and settlements have been set up, and residents have called these places home for years.
When development projects begin, they face risk of forced eviction. They could be forced to leave the home they’ve always known for places which may be far away from their jobs, necessary services, or even access to electricity/clean water.
Being low-income, it can be difficult to restart a life again in someplace so far.
Many of these informal homes are also in less than decent conditions, built haphazardly with zinc walls and unstable wooden rods.
Habitat Cambodia has undertaken massive Social Housing projects in both Battambang and Siem Reap which seek to provide a developed resettlement site for homeowners currently living in informal settlements.
They will include proper community mapping, roads, drainage systems, electricity, clean water connection and of course, safe and stable housing.
All in all, about 100 families will benefit from the project. The best thing?
Each Habitat home has the potential to be upgraded should the family wishes to do so in the future!
Each family is different, so we believe in long term housing solutions which are customisable to their unique needs and lifestyles.
This visit to witness Habitat Cambodia's work was a good reminder that the work we do doesn't just exist within the sphere of Singapore's bubble. As an international housing charity, we seek to extend love to our neighbours too who need support.
With that being said, we can't wait to welcome all of you back to our Global Village programme! While it is still on pause, we are hopeful that we can open up soon.
Til' then, you may want to consider supporting our overseas homeowners by funding their house builds: https://give.asia/campaign/help-fund-more-builds-in-kabil-village-batam-2022
Your support still matters, even if it's clicking a 'Donate' button from the comfort of your own home!