Dear Friends and Partners,
It has been awhile since I have written – my excuse is a simple one – working very hard to get the Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital ready for our soft opening held this past week. One of the blessings is having my niece Paighton Ritskes here to write of her experiences while in Cambodia. Paighton went house building – this is her account.
This past week I had the opportunity to house build with Tabitha. During my two-day build, we sweat, cried and some bleed but all of these things vanished from our minds the minute we got to meet the families who worked so hard to save for their dream of having a Tabitha home. They took such pride in their homes and their accomplishments, welcoming us with open arms into their community and into their lives. Starting this journey off, we were exposed to the rich and devastating history that Cambodia and the majority of its people faced in the past and in turn still face today.
I grew up in a middle class family in a small town in Ontario. We lived in a beautiful home, when I was growing up we had running water and never did without food. We lived in a safe neighborhood filled with lots of children to befriend and to help make the most of our time. This for me was a rich and blessed childhood, one that not many children in Cambodia grew up with. This was something that I came to realize navigating my way throughout the city of Cambodia and more so during my time house building in a small village in rural Cambodia. One thing that didn’t change was how kind and generous these people were to my fellow house builders and I as we embarked on a two-day build. We built a total of 18 houses for 18 different families who were not only proud of their accomplishment of saving enough money to pay for their home but they were grateful for our presence and excited to show off their existing homes, belongings and precious families.
During our two-day build, we sweat, cried and some bleed but all of these things vanished from our minds the minute we got to meet the families who worked so hard to save for their dream of having a Tabitha home. On our first day, my team set to work on our first house, we were given a bowl of nails, a pair of gloves and a hammer and got to work nailing the boards down to create the floors and nailing the siding to the frame to complete the walls. Each house took us about an hour to build… but we did it. We were sweating and took a lot of water breaks to cool down but we did it, we finished our first house. If that wasn’t enough we got to meet the booming family that would soon climb up the ladder to their new home and make it their own. We met their children and got to witness their triumph as they finally saw the fruit of their labor and their savings come to life. They are their own hero’s and we are just a small part of their story, but for me that small piece of their life left a huge imprint on mine.
We continued to built our assigned houses, it got hotter, we drank even more water, had the odd injury with a mistaken hammer wound or a siding cut but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a Band-Aid and some encouragement. We met family after family, they offered us fruit and we gratefully accepted. We continued to hammer as they watched us with smiles on their face and excitement radiating in their community. The people of the village guided us from house to house and made sure at every step we felt welcomed and taken care of. I have never experience such joy and such pride in my life. This feeling was not one that I expected to have coming into this experience.
Prior to boarding the bus for our 2-hour ride to our destination, we embarked on a historical expedition. We visited both the Killing Fields and the TuolSleng Genocide Museum and learned about the deep sorrow and terror that the people of Cambodia once faced during the Khmer Rouge regime. These people just like me who remember a childhood or adulthood filled with love and joy were forced out of their beautiful homes and lives within the limits of Phnom Penh. Their lives earnings and families that they had worked so hard to build up were stripped from them. Some were killed, some were imprisoned without cause but regardless of their fate, they all suffered and are still suffering from the horrors they once were faced with.
After learning of all of the history that the people of Cambodia faced, I couldn’t even imagine the terror and detest they must have had for a foreigner like me who’s country did not intervene, and their country that caused them so much pain. The aftermath of all that had happened however, has not been evident and the people that we met, that welcomed us into their homes and community had nothing ill spirited to say towards us.In knowing this history and in meeting these amazing people you would not know of the sorrow that they suffered by how far they have come and how hard they have worked to reclaim dignity within themselves and within their ability to make a better life for themselves. After being told time and time again that they were bad, they decided they were good enough and we got to witness a small part of their triumph and be a part of their journey and for that I am grateful, for that I am full.
How very grateful I am that so many of you like Paighton take the time to come and work for our families- I thank My God for each of you. How good that is!