In July 2017, Grace travelled to Siem Reap to support Habitat's partner programme in Cambodia, repairing and building homes in the local community. Here she answers some questions about the experience.
Charity work was always something I said I wanted to do, a classic tick on everyone’s bucket list. Taking the leap to actually do it, took me longer than expected. There are a lot of charities out there and choosing the right one seemed quite daunting. A friend had previously been on Habitat for Humanity trips and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. She suggested signing up for global volunteering. After putting a bit of pressure on me, she pushed me for a decision, without thinking I said, sign me up. A decision I will forever be proud of.
Work on site was initially quite scary - knowing what to do, the humidity, being able to understand the skilled workers and being able to actually do the work. The moment I met the two lovely ladies we were building for, Mrs Phann and Mrs Is, these apprehensions disappeared. Hearing their story, seeing their emotion at us being there and being greeted each morning with such gentleness and the biggest smile, I instantly felt driven and ready for any job to be thrown my way. Building a home for someone was the aim, giving someone shelter, security, peace of mind, that was the motivation. From ensuring the bamboo sticks were perfectly macheted, nailing down floors, sawing, brick laying and painting, I genuinely couldn’t pick a favourite. I was delighted to have been able to have any part to play in this build.
Since returning home I have said to numerous people how shocked I was at how much I laughed on the trip. I previously associated charity trips with sadness and tears. Yes it was a culture shock and yes on day one when we met who we were building for I found it very emotional and challenging, but once we started the work you could see the happiness, closeness and community spirit of everyone in the village. They had an indescribable bond, and no matter what else was going on in the world, this was their world, their norm and their happy place, they had no basis of comparison. It was a very refreshing outlook on life for me. The group itself bonded very quickly and without these amazing people by my side, I don’t know if my trip would have been the experience it was. The giggles throughout the day, the patience, kindness and encouragement, it never went unnoticed. An absolutely incredible bunch of people.
There was so much to learn from this trip but for me personally it was to say yes to things that scare you slightly. Take the risk because if it was anything like this trip you will never regret it. It may seem unnerving heading away with a group you don’t know but everyone is there for the same reason. The bond and memories created will stay with me forever. The work Habitat for Humanity do is something you will only truly understand when you sign up. Every penny you raise when fundraising is seen in abundance through the experience.
Apart from the sheer pride of completing two houses and beginning two more, my highlight was the last day on site. The way the people in the village treated us with such love, respect and genuine gratitude, the games played (who knew attacking people with talc powder could bring out the competitive side in me), the handing over the houses to Mrs Phann and Mrs Is. It will forever be one of those days that I will tell of for years to come. Memories I will cherish forever.