Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

December 15, 2009: The Completion of the Very Tall House

Posted in Cambodia on December 16, 2009

This was a very eventful, educational and rewarding day for us.

In the morning, Team 1 enclosed a wall-less schoolroom with woven bamboo mats. Team 2 returned to the very tall house determined to finish their work there. There really was no other option; the wheels were already in motion for a housewarming party this evening.

It seemed as if Team 2 saved the hardest part for last. After completing all the thatching, they learned that long sticks had to be applied horizontally to the outside of the house to keep the thatch from blowing up in the wind and rain. This required working in tandem, with one partner pushing wire from inside the house to the outside of the house and the other partner grabbing the wire, wrapping it around a stick and pushing it back through to be tied off. This task took some of the morning and all afternoon to complete. In fact, the last wire was tied off just after Team 1 arrived for the party at 4:30 p.m.

At lunch, we learned from Sarah that Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia plans to sponsor a week-long village clean-up on the main street of Chamber Bei village next week. The village features a collection of dusty, open-air shops, including a butcher shop where the meat sits out in the sun all day, a general store, a fruit stand, and a motorcycle repair shop. BABSEA wants to encourage the shop owners to spruce up in order to attract more business. After lunch, a few members of Team 2 joined Team 1 to start building a septic system at the home of a family participating in BABSEA’s community restoration project. Unlike the two houses, this time we had a schematic drawing to follow. Ravi, who is in charge of health and sanitation for BABSEA in Chamcar Bei village, explained that about 100 families live in the immediate area and only 15 of them have latrines on their property. It costs about $170 to acquire materials for a septic system, plus labor, which is a prohibitive amount of money for the vast majority of families. Without a latrine, people have to relieve themselves outdoors. During the rainy season fecal material can spread into inhabited areas and spread dysentery and other diseases.

Ravi noted that one reason Chamber Bei is so poor is because fighting continued there much longer than it did in other parts of the country, making it difficult for aid to reach its inhabitants.

At the house where we are installing the septic system, the family has volunteered to help educate their neighbors about sound sanitation practices. Although they live in relatively poor conditions, they also have a water filtration system that removes more than 90 percent of disease-causing bacteria.

The septic system requires the installation of three to four concrete cylinders, laid on top of each other in hand-dug holes more than four-feet deep. Holes are drilled in the concrete and pipes are inserted through the holes and attached to the privy. The walls of the latrine are made of brick. The door is pre-fab, like something you might find at Home Depot. The roof is made of corrugated metal. It’s sensational.

We plan to install a second septic system at another home tomorrow. It takes a couple of days to complete the project; we plan to have both finished on Thursday.

The day ended with our housewarming celebration at the very tall house. Mr. Tiery entwined flowering vines that were hung across the threshold and each person who worked on the house, including the parents, children, grandma and all Team 2 members, each cut one strand of the vine with scissors. Then the family welcomed us into their new home. They served rice wine (which has a real kick!) and duck stew with morning glory. We brought an assortment of snacks and beverages. Many of the local men lounged on the big table that we helped construct. Many more children seemed to appear from nowhere to enjoy the treats.

The family made a point of thanking each one of us individually. Seeing their appreciative faces was so gratifying; we just wish we could have expressed how much we all got out of the experience. We left at sunset with bittersweet emotions, knowing we would not be returning again to the very tall house.

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