House Building is a cultural exchange between the volunteers and the Cambodians. Through learning, mutual respect can be built. The experience is humbling and awakening.
Volunteering is not just about gap-years and long-term assignments. Over the past decade, we have facilitated a number of volunteer house-building experiences for people from all backgrounds. Through house building, Cambodians are able to share their expertise with the volunteers that come. They teach foreigners how to hammer and saw, they teach volunteers the Cambodian ways and culture. Volunteers like to have a meaningful experience. They feel like they have left something behind.
Through house building, volunteers are dependent on the Cambodians for instructions on how a house is finished, volunteers play with the children and learn some Cambodian words, volunteers leave with a deeper appreciation of the strength of the human spirit under harsh living conditions.
The concept started in 1996 with people contacting us wishing to contribute and have a meaningful experience through Tabitha. Since then, the house building program has expanded to include students, teachers, parents, individuals and corporate groups. Currently, there are an average of six teams of volunteers per month coming from Cambodia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, United States, United Kingdom and Canada to build houses.
To date, we have seen over 10,100 houses constructed by 20,000 volunteers. In 2016, 67 teams went to Cambodia (1,622 volunteers that built 919 houses). An additional 286 Cambodian families built sturdy homes and 97 families build thatch homes during the year. Our oldest builder was 76 years of age and our youngest builder was 5 years of age!
A typical house building trip will begin with an insightful orientation session from our founder Janne Ritskes that usually takes place in Phnom Penh and includes an opportunity to visit some of Cambodia's sites of interest. Volunteers will have the chance to learn first-hand about the causes of, the results of and, most importantly, the solutions to poverty. The team will then travel to a project site to carry out the work. Each team must raise US$1,500 per house for materials. Tabitha prepares the cement posts and the frame and the teams finish the house under the supervision of local Tabitha staff. Most teams can build 4 to 6 houses per day.
The recipients are typically families from our program who have saved enough money to be able to buy a small piece of land and some of the materials. But this program is about so much more than bricks and mortar. The impact is a shared experience of growth and understanding between cultures. Long lasting friendships have been formed with this work, and volunteers will leave Cambodia with a real sense of achievement by helping Cambodian families become role models for others.
We ask that volunteers form their own groups of 12 to 20 people independently and then contact Tabitha well in advance to arrange the dates. The volunteers must cover their own travel and accommodation costs, but we can help arrange the booking of hotels and buses for the teams.
Our house building program can also add a whole new dimension to corporate team-building activities, adding not just to the performance of your team, but to your whole organization's corporate social responsibility priorities.