The Siem Reap Province in Cambodia is made up of 12 districts comprising of approximately 190,106 families, which translates into about 946,656 people. 16% live in thatched houses which are either severely damaged and decaying, or made of scraps. The home is the centre of life and living in such conditions affects other basic survival needs: 47% don’t have access to clean drinking water and 56% don’t have access to a toilet. Schooling is another integral aspect of life affected by such poverty: of the 2.8 million people living in extreme poverty in Cambodia (on less than 1.25 US dollars a day), a child completes an average of 3.3 years of education.
Building Climate-smart Homes and Schools through RESMAR:
Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to “[bring] people together to build homes, communities and hope.” A project committed to doing just that is: “Improving the Lives of Families and Children through Disaster Resilient Climate-smart Homes and Schools in Siem Reap, Cambodia” or “RESMAR”.
In a mere 12 months, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Habitat Cambodia have built five climate-smart houses that have become homes for 23 people who make up the five families, 11 of whom are female. In being more resilient in the face of the region’s natural disasters, primarily floods and droughts, these homes not only provide their inhabitants with security, but also guarantee them more reliable sources of income.
To hear about the effects of the RESMAR Project in Cambodia, directly from its beneficiaries, watch the video above.
Pictured above: Vouch Dy and her family
Habitat Cambodia have also ensured the sustainability and longevity of the effects of RESMAR by providing training on the use and maintenance of climate-smart housing and farming based on the needs of each individual. A project beneficiary, Vouch Dy, expressed her glee by saying:
“In addition to having a new house to live, my income was increased about USD 50 per month with the farming activities around the house like vegetables growing and animal raising.”
This allows families like Vouch Dy’s to maintain the improved living conditions provided by Habitat, and to ensure that the children are able to attend school and have a place to study at home.
A community training session on climate-smart farming
Aside from improving the living conditions of the five families, Habitat Cambodia also renovated two primary schools, Hun Sen Svaychek and Vatslat Romchey. Sothea, a teacher at Hun Sen Svaychek Primary School said, “It was challenging for me to teach students while raining. As the roof of the classroom was leaking, I had to move the students to share the space with other students; they cannot concentrate on the lesson while I was teaching.” With the renovations however, she added that “now, [her] students feel good, especially they no longer need to share space with others”
“Then, we were able to provide community-wide training through them which included training on climate-smart, school-based farming and sanitation, hygiene, and safety. A teacher at Vatslat Romchey Primary School Sreypoch, attested to the benefits of these training sessions:
“I got a new experience to plant vegetables and share with my students during the class and other teachers… The gardening led to improving students’ nutrition by applying crops cultivating at school and at home based, on the technical trainings provided.”
By implementing these training sessions through primary schools, Habitat Cambodia aims to instil farming and hygiene practices from a young age, and hopefully they will continue to spread across families and generations.
The RESMAR Project is one dedicated to improving the lives of families in Cambodia who live below the poverty line and are struggling to rise above it. It gives them a house and a pathway to a better life, for them and future generations.
Poeurn Thul and Bon
Poeurn Thul and Bon in front of their old house
In Ta Trav village, 34 kilometers away from Siem Reap city, stood a run down house with cracked thatched walls, a leaking zinc ceiling, and almost no door. This home belonged to Poeurn Thul, 28, her husband, Bon, 34 and their 10-year-old daughter.
Bon worked in Phnom Penh city in construction, while Poeurn stayed home caring for their daughter, and also trying to bring in whatever money she could through basket weaving. Together, Poeurn and Bon had a joint income of around 146 US dollars per month, most of which went to repaying a loan from the bank for 595 US dollars, which they used to buy a motorcycle so that Bon could travel to the city for work.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, did increase the hardship experienced by Poeurn and her family:
“My husband lost the job he used to have nearby our house because of Covid-19 pandemic and he needs to look for a job in Siem Reap town to support our family and pay for the loan during that time, I just delivered my second son, but sadly, he passed away at a month old. In these circumstances, I really need my husband at home.”
A contractor from the RESMAR Project taking assessing the old house
Prior to making any physical changes, Habitat Cambodia sent a construction supervisor to assess the family’s needs and living conditions. The RESMAR project doesn’t subscribe to “one size fits all” solutions; each family’s specific context tailors the outcome. Despite the pandemic Poeurn’s house was completed in September 2020.
Poeurn was “delighted to receive this new house support; it provides comfortable spaces for [her] daughter to study and play.” Her new house was equipped with electricity, as well as a water tank which supplied water to the new toilet and farming field around the house.
“These supports provide me hope and opportunities to leave the condition of extreme poverty.”
Poeurn outside her new home
Aside from the new tangible improvements in housing and farming, Poeurn and her family were supplied with training on the maintenance of climate-smart farming and housing, including water, hygiene, sanitation, financial literacy, and home upkeep. They were taught how to reap the benefits of their land effectively and sustainably to increase their income, and by extension, their quality of life.
Poeurn “now knows how to prepare the land, make compost fertilizer, and plant vegetables properly, especially the concept of climate-smart. [She is] committed to growing vegetables year-round based on the technical advices and training [she] received.”
She added, “despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we could still earn 250 dollars per month from my husband’s work, including my work making baskets and selling the vegetables to my neighbours. We do not need to buy it from the market.”
Poeurn taking part in climate-smart, home-based farming
Poeurn and her family have committed to utilising the skills and facilities which Habitat for Humanity has provided them with to ensure the enhancement of their lives and the life of their child. Their well-being is Habitat’s measure of success for the RESMAR project.
Sea Soktheara and her children
Not too far away from Thul and Bon, lives Sea Soktheara. She is the primary breadwinner of her four-person family. Through her house-keeping job, she is able to earn a monthly income of about 100 US dollars. This isn’t enough to sustain their lives or well-being, let alone the maintenance of their house. It is made of poorly thatched walls and a zinc ceiling which leaks when it rains. Due to its inadequacy, the four of them were forced to move to a single shared room in her mother’s house.
Habitat Cambodia has confronted this challenge by providing Sea and her family with not only new climate-smart housing, equipped with water and electricity connections, but also climate-smart, home-based farming and training. She expresses the shift in her circumstances:
“After joining the training on climate-smart farming, I am confident to do it by myself at home. It is different from what I did before, and it produces more outcomes, that I could use for my family consumption and selling to my neighbour. I can even save some money from selling and buying vegetables to support my children to go to school.”
Sea Soktheara and two of her children in their new home
Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to complications in the lives of women like Sea, especially in regards to her income. That’s why reducing the costs of food, through self-sufficiency and home-based farming, has been so beneficial. Sea has also begun to raise chickens, further enhancing her income as well as her family’s nutrition.
Sea taking part in climate-smart farming and feeding her chickens
Habitat Cambodia have equipped Sea with the tools and assistance she needed to successfully support herself and her family.