GIFT A HOME
The Chea family have been living in a tiny, one-room shack for almost three years. It’s cramped, dark and on the verge of falling down, no place for three children to grow up. This #GivingTuesday, help us to give the family the gift they need most – a new home
Rising before the sun, Sok Saron leaves her home at 5am every morning, trying not to wake her three children sleeping in one corner of the little wooden house that the family calls home.
Sok Saron, 37, works as a trash scavenger, trawling through garbage on the streets of Phnom Penh to find items to sell for a handful of dollars a day.
Growing up poor in rural Cambodia, Saron never went to school. She never had a dream to follow or hopes for the future.
Her dreams now are for her children and being able to give them a new home is her biggest wish.
“I don’t want my children growing up in a house like this but we have no other choice. We cannot afford a better home,” she says, gesturing to the lopsided structure behind.
Made of planks of old wood and rusting corrugated iron, the dilapidated shack looks like it could collapse at any moment.
“When there is wind, the house shakes and when it rains, the water comes in. We have to cover up the children as best we can so that they don’t get wet.” says her husband, Sophea.
A leaking roof is the least of their worries.
The front door – a sheet of corrugated iron – simply pulls to and cannot be locked, and Sok Saron says she is worried about her young daughters who are home alone when their parents are still out working.
“The house is not safe and I am afraid for my girls,” she says.
The youngest girl, Ary, is only five, and the eldest daughter, Mony, is nine. Son Rithy recently turned eight. The children are all enrolled in CCF’s education program.
All five in the family live, cook, eat and sleep in the one room with bare floorboards and wooden walls with gaps large enough to peek outside.
It’s not what Sok Saron and her husband had envisaged when they moved to Phnom Penh from the province as young adults in search of work and a better life. Like many migrant workers from the countryside seeking opportunities in the big city, they ended up scavenging on the streets to survive and living in Steung Meanchey, among communities centred around the former municipal landfill site where CCF works.
Life is still a struggle for the couple.
Sophea, 39, works for Phnom Penh’s waste disposal company, Cintri, putting in nine hour days, seven days a week, for around $150 (USD) a month.
A proud man, he clearly desperately wants to provide for his young family and is doing the best he can.
“I dropped out of school at Grade 1,” he says. “Since I was seven years old, I have been an orphan. My mother was sick and passed away. My dad died falling from a tree when he has harvesting kapok (a cotton-like fluff, also known as silk or Java cotton).”
Tired after a shift clearing up other people’s rubbish, he returns home to a place littered with yet more trash.
Around and under the Chea’s house is a carpet of detritus, a layer of plastic bottles, discarded food, bones, tin cans and old DVDs. The family’s youngest, Ary, wanders past walking barefoot on broken glass as a bedraggled looking chicken pecks around in search of food under the house.
Next door is a recycling centre, which has bags of rubbish spilling across the floor and piles of ancient televisions with cracked screens stacked against a wall. Close by, running both sides along a filthy narrow corridor, are other wooden shacks but the Chea’s home is in by far the worst condition.
Inside their shack, for which the Cheas pay $25 (USD) rent a month, it’s dark, and humid. The air is cloying.
A single fan whirls in the ceiling and a bare light bulb casts a dim orange glow across the floor, illuminating a grubby mattress. At the far end, is another bare dirty mattress, with a teddy bear pattern, where the kids sleep together.
You can see straight to the ground through the gaping gaps in the floorboards (planks of wood and bamboo poles), down to the rubbish underneath, the smell of which seeps back up into the shack, along with hoards of flies and mosquitos. Against one wall, are the pots and pans, where Sok Saron cooks on a single gas ring.
They have tried to make it a homely, with little touches such a small photo of one of the girls in their kindergarten uniform receiving a certificate on the wall, but it’s not a home.
“We want a good home for the children to grow up in,” says Sophea. “We want a good place for them to be able to study. It would mean we could be a real family if we have a proper home.”
Outside, as dusk falls, his wife is washing the dishes in a small pink plastic bowl after a simple evening meal of fish and rice. Above her head hang clothes drying on a washing line strung across the back of the house. In the same area, the family also wash in the open using rainwater collected in a giant ceramic pot, right next to the ‘bathroom’, a squat toilet housed in a falling down wooden shelter.
The kids are playing outside in the fading light.
Mony, the eldest and dressed in her red and blue CCF school uniform, says that English is her favourite subject. At nine years old, she’s already attended school more than either of her parents ever did. Her brother Rithy, wearing a Spider-Man, tells us that he wants to be a superhero of his own when he grows up, a doctor, while Ary has her sights set on being a teacher.
“I work hard to offer them knowledge,” says their mother.
“I cannot offer them anything other than knowledge and making sure they go to school. That is why I am working hard, for them.
“Knowledge will make them better and give them a chance of a better life, a better life than I have had.”
- Donate now and help us give the Chea family the gift of a new home
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