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Vail Valley volunteers build a future

Bob Moroney
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyHabitat volunteers from Eagle County joined over 300 other volunteers, representing eight different countries, to help construct 22 homes over five days in Cambodia.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Twenty-two Cambodian families are especially grateful this holiday season as they were relocated from where they were living in a former 11-acre dump site in Phnom Penh. The stench from the dumpsite carries for miles in the humid environment. It is where the poorest of Cambodia’s poor eke out a living, collecting scraps of glass and metal, which they then sell for less than a dollar a day. The 22 new Habitat for Humanity homes are located in a community village being developed in Oudong, Kandal Province.

Ou Samneang, 50, construction worker and scavenger, his wife Ry, 44, and their children are looking forward to their new lives as they were one of the homeowners who partnered with the Habitat volunteers to construct their home and new future. Most importantly, their children will now have the opportunity to go to school.

“I love our house very much because it is our own house,” Samneang said. “The children will have a good future here.”



Cambodia is rapidly emerging from a traumatic past which involved the communist Khmer Rouge (Party of Democratic Kampuchea) regime, killing nearly 2 million people during the late ’70s. It is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, where only 36 percent of the country’s population has access to safe drinking water and the life expectancy is 57.

Cambodia is a favorite destination of Habitat for Humanity volunteer builders. Since 2003, Habitat for Humanity Cambodia’s housing and community-development programs in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Prev Veng and Kandal have aimed to reduce poverty by empowering communities to improve their access to better living conditions.

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Local Habitat volunteers Dick Bourret, Amy Fordham, Corey Lamothe, Bob Moroney and Rhonda Swenson from Eagle County joined over 300 other volunteers, representing eight different countries, to help construct 22 homes over five days last month. Each soil brick home was less than 400 square feet with an attached 6-by-6-foot “bathroom,” which housed only a toilet, nothing else – no shower, no jacuzzi tub, no double-granite sinks. Try to imagine your entire family living in a 20-by-20-foot space and cooking your meals outside in the dirt (no Weber gas grills here). The houses were made with environmentally friendly soil bricks and corrugated metal roofing. The roofs house solar panels for making electricity and are designed with harvesting systems to collect rainwater.

In addition to constructing the units, the volunteer teams also participated in making the bricks on site and worked on the community “farm.” Habitat for Humanity Cambodia has partnered with the International Children’s Care Australia (ICCA) to develop a 6-acre sustainable farm. ICCA is providing agriculture and management training with the goal of turning the farm over to the community in three years. The farm grows fruits and vegetables for the community with other areas set aside for raising chickens and fish.

The homes cost around $3,500 each to build and are financed in part by Habitat affiliates around the world. The way it works is each local chapter, such as Habitat for Humanity of Eagle and Lake Counties, tithes or contributes to a fund to finance the construction costs of partner homes in impoverished countries. Every home we build locally not only changes the lives of a family in our community, but helps build homes around the world, where smaller dollar amounts can go quite a long way.



Habitat’s Big Builds in 2012

On Dec. 5, when the world marked International Volunteer Day, Habitat for Humanity announced that more than 1,000 volunteers are set to visit Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh in three “Big Build” events in 2012. The “Big Build” events will bring together families in need with Habitat volunteers and supporters to show how building homes and communities can break the cycle of poverty. Twenty-four homes are scheduled to be built in Sri Lanka in August, 40 homes in Nepal in October and 20 homes in Bangladesh in December.

“I have been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity since 2001 and each year is an extremely rewarding experience,” said Dick Bourret, a Vail Valley volunteer who has built homes in Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Ethiopia, Romania, Africa, New Zealand, Portugal, Cambodia and, of course, Eagle County.

If you would like to make a difference and experience a new culture while changing lives, contact our local affiliate at 970-748-6718 to find out about future international builds, and the many opportunities right here in our valley.

Habitat currently has four homes under construction which, when completed, will bring the total to 35 homes which have been build since 1995.

Bob Moroney has been involved with Habitat since 1998 and credits his Cambodian experience as “transformational.” He is planning to participate in next year’s International Build trip to Nepal or Bangladesh.


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