What an amazing Habitat for Humanity project! Brian and I joined a team led by Carla and Surayyah, two fantastic Global Village trip leaders who did a lot to facilitate a great trip, group bonding, hard work, flexibility, interesting cultural experiences...it was all kinds of fabulous.
Our 20 or so fellow team members made up one of the greatest Habitat groups or any hard-working team I've ever joined! The volunteers were "the usual" in some ways for a Habitat trip, as I have started to notice certain recurring character types on my Habitat builds: the thirtysomething professional single woman, the married/partnered couple with previous building experience back home, the bubbly one who is friendly to everyone, the single Canadian guy, the middle aged or slightly older hilarious man with interesting world experiences, etc. On my previous Habitat trips, I have been part of 12-member teams, but this group was bigger (22, I think?), so there was definitely variety. Everyone really worked and played well together.
Our local Siem Reap Habitat affiliate people were great, too. The rep who worked with us was helpful and on the ball, and the two translators were nice and fun and friendly. As I mentioned, we were split into two basic groups, wood house and brick house, for the week, but we were walking distance from the other work site in the village. At the end of the week we also had a chance to visit the temple and the school in the village, and we pitched in together and bought a swingset to donate to the school. That was a highlight of the trip. The kids are just awesome. Seriously, like every Cambodian kid we encountered was awesome.
That includes, by the way, the kids for whom you feel pity and on whose behalf you feel anger: the ones who are hawking books, postcards, scarves, and whatever else can be sold on the streets, beaches, temple entrance steps, etc. It's one thing to feel sorry for them and buy something because they are charming, but working on the streets keeps them out of school and while it may seem like a necessary quick fix (i.e., they have no money/food) it is actually worse for the long run if they don't get educated (i.e., child sex trafficking is the all-too-common fate in Cambodia). So, don't buy from the kids in Cambodia, even when they count to ten for you in ten different languages or surprise you with their wit.
There are a bazillion NGO people helping out there, and we had up close encounters with two: the Land Mine Museum, and Green Star restaurant. We dined one night as a team at Green Star, where the profits go to an organization that helps get the kids off the streets, addresses the abuse in their family situations, and employs said people at a living wage, as well as assisting with training and education. The Australian man who runs the place talked to us about it before our delicious dinner. (By the way, dinner in Cambodia was always delicious. I absolutely loved eating there.) The museum had a U.S. man, of similar age (baby boomer) and manner as the Aussie, who got intrigued, came to Cambodia , and isn't leaving any time soon. This guy was from California (in fact, his cell phone played the USC fight song for its ring tone! Fight on! and kudos to Brian for hearing it first before we had even entered the place), ex-military, now working with an amazing ex-military-ex-child-soldier Cambodian man whose life work is now de-mining the country, including some mines he himself was forced to help place back in the Khmer Rouge day. This museum also helps educate kids, and provides an orphange-home for some, plus education.
Well, those are some of the basics about our experience. I will try to get some pictures of the village and houses posted here right away!