Installing the beams for the roof

Building Hope: The Construction Project

 

The construction project is potentially the most exciting novelty of this year’s summer camps. It all began when Leakhana des Pallières, head of the social services of PSE, saw the need to help families whose houses were unliveable and dilapidated, by providing material and builders to reconstruct them. The problem was that PSE did not have the budget to do this without external help. After the social services showed Marisa and Pablo the first house they had chosen to repair, they decided that several monitors from different camps, if they were interested, would build the house, and the summer camp budget would provide the material. Kunthea Chan, a social assistant involved in the project, explained that “the first house was home to a family with 10 children studying in PSE. The wood from their floor was rotting because the roof was broken, creating a huge leak. “Last week, my team went to the market to buy the material and the team of 4 monitors then built the house in 4 days. We choose the families who live in the most difficult conditions and who desperately need our help.”

Last Monday, after the first house was finished, a new team of monitors was recruited to build a second house, owned by a family with seven children. The mother is a garbage collector in the streets of Phnom Penh, and makes an average of 1500 riels a day (0.45$). The father is a construction worker, whose work is very unstable because of the current rainy season. His daily pay is 20 000 riels (5$). The particularity of the slum village they live in is that it is built on wooden stilts that perch in dark black dump water, in which tons of rotting garbage float. This family’s house, situated at the end of an alley of wooden houses, was supported by pillars that were completely disintegrating, causing the house to slowly sink into the black water. The roof was also falling apart, preventing the family to sleep at night because of the heavy rain. Antonio, head of accounting and logistics for the summer camps, visited the village with the social services to estimate the expenses. The first house was built for 730$, and the second one for 545$. Chanda Horn, the social assistant who accompanies the builders every day on-site, recalls that “when we first told the mother of the family that we would build their house, she refused to believe us. When we arrived with the material on Monday she started crying and hugging us, it was very moving.”

Pablo and Alejandra, two summer camp monitors who have worked on this second house all week, spoke of their adventure reconstructing the house with the Khmer builders. They experienced profound shock when they first discovered the dilapidated 13 sqm house where the 9-person family was living. From the first day they started working, the mother would go and buy them 500-riel bottles of water twice a day to show her gratitude, spending more than two days of revenue on them, refusing to stop when they told her not to. The construction of the house went very quickly: on Monday they broke down the rotting wood of the old house and installed the foundation pillars. On Tuesday they built the floor. On Wednesday they built the roof, and on Thursday they were finished installing the corrugated iron walls. Alejandra reflects: “What is most amazing about building with these people is seeing their talents for resourcefulness: if they don’t have enough material, they recycle wood from the old house; if they are missing a tool, they make do with what they have and invent one. They are extremely ingenious. This construction has nothing to do with what I studied in my architecture classes in Spain. Here, with wood, nails and human strength you can build a house. I am forever impressed.”

 

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