“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb.
From March 31 to 6 April 2019, I got the chance to lead a team of individual volunteers on a 5-day build trip to Battambang in Cambodia. We worked alongside a young couple, Voeury and Channy, who lived with their two young sons (the youngest only 6 months old!), their elderly mother and elderly aunt. Their house, made of palm leaves and old zinc (pictured below), would leak whenever it rained.
Our initial excitement was looking at the almost empty build site, anticipating how we were going to complete the house within 5 days. So, off we went tying reinforcement bars, sawing wooden pillars, hand-mixing cement and building up the concrete pillars.
April was known to be the hottest month in Cambodia - I was expecting a hot and dry season during the build. But then came strong gusts of winds, threatening skies and heavy rain, forcing us to stop work. Even the temporary tent that was set up to be our resting area for the next few days did not seem to be able to hold against the wind and rain. It was wobbling and leaking so badly that we had to take shelter under another completed Habitat house just beside the tent.
Suddenly, it dawned on me - the tent was just like the previous home conditions for the homeowners! What we had experienced for a day was what they had been living with for the past few years. And what a difference it was to be able to have a safe shelter in a stormy weather like this.
For the rest of the trip, it rained nearly every afternoon and disrupted our build schedule. But all of us worked hard alongside the homeowners to ensure that they would have a safe place to call their own, preferably by the time our 5 days here were over.
On the last day, when we were about to do some sharing of well-wishes with the homeowners, it started to pour again. This time we could take shelter inside the Habitat house that we had just helped to (almost) complete. There was about thirty of us in the house and the rain was getting stronger. Yet we felt so safe inside the house and sheltered from all the natural elements outside.
As a team leader, the most interesting part for me was to see how all of us started off as strangers and ended up becoming friends through the build. It was my first time being a build team leader, and I really did not know what to expect at all. But the team members - most of them were individuals who signed up on their own - actually put aside their differences to get to know one another, take care of one another and to motivate one another. Dinner times were especially enjoyable when we got to really sit down and chat with one another more, laughing at some of the funny moments during the build.
Habitat's vision is to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live in. As staff at Habitat Singapore, this is something that is instilled upon us year after year. Every day we hear stories of how somewhere in the world, someone’s life has been transformed simply just by being able to own a house that they have co-built with Habitat for Humanity. All these serve as daily reminders about how important our work is in helping to give a hand up to the poor so that they can work towards a better future. To be able to build a Habitat house and to test it out in the face of a storm onsite - this is one of the most memorable and impactful trip for me as Habitat staff.
Of course, nothing beats experiencing it for yourself. So, if you are considering to lead a build team, do sign up now!
To those who wish to be part of it yet have no time to go, consider helping us by donating to build another Habitat house (and building another family’s future).