Keeping a Family Afloat in Cambodia
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Keeping a Family Afloat in Cambodia

Our team in Southeast Asia brought hope to one needy couple—and an entire village

There are no wealthy families in the floating village of Me Chrey, situated 25 miles southwest of Siem Reap on Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake. But Mr. Chin Mab and Mrs. Prom Sok, who live here with their four young grandchildren, face exceptional challenges. The children's father, considered a danger to the village, was arrested and sent to prison for stealing to feed his family. His wife, overcome with shame, fled to Thailand, where she found work as a laborer. Chin Mab and Prom Sok now care for the children alone, making their meager living by cutting and selling the elephant grasses that villagers use to keep their homes afloat—backbreaking work for the elderly couple, but the only work they know. And even though they sell the grasses so that others may repair their homes, their own home is in shambles.

In the early morning hours of July 13, 2011, a team of 35 associates, Trip Leaders, and vendors boarded a longtail boat for the village of Me Chrey, where they had planned a special community service event. "We heard from the village chief that there was one family in Me Chrey who lived in extreme poverty," says Ton Rerkdee, OAT's Regional General Manager in Thailand, who led the event along with John Cuong, Regional General Manager in Laos and Cambodia. "In this village, the quality of life really depends upon the raft of bamboo and elephant grass that floats their houses. So we selected Chin Mab and Prom Sok to have their house rebuilt, due to their struggling situation."

The team arrived stocked with bamboo, lumber, tin panels, and palm leaves. Working in teams because the structure couldn't bear the weight of 35 people, they worked for hours in the heat of the day to reconstruct the dilapidated home. Villagers, too, joined in the effort to help their neighbors. Chin Mab was overcome with gratitude. "We thank you all so much for the kindness and generosity to help our family," he said when construction was complete. "It really gives us strength to continue our lives and take care of our grandchildren."

After the rebuilding project, the team wanted to do something special for the entire village, rather than just one family, so they organized a community boat race. "In Cambodia, racing boats is one of the people's favorite activities," says Ton. "Every November, the community celebrates the Water Festival with a boat race on Tonle Sap River. So we decided to recreate this with our team and the local villagers." The winning team took home a prize of $50, which was shared with the whole community. Then, the group got to know each other better over a late lunch, where Chin Mab and Prom Sok, along with their grandchildren, were honored guests. "This was probably the best meal they've had in their lives," says Ton.

On the boat ride home, the team discussed the activities of the day, in particular the experience of rebuilding the home of Chin Mab and Prom Sok. "We all felt so lucky for all we have, and very sad for the background of the family," says Ton. "We got to thinking about what else we could do to help them in their lives." They took up a small collection in the office, which raised a total of $80. It was enough to purchase 70 pounds of rice and some other groceries and spices, as well as a fishing net to help provide a sustainable source of food for the family. They returned to the village to present these gifts to Chin Mab and Prom Sok. "We had $30 left over, which we decided to give them for any emergencies, such as health care," says Ton.

"We hope that this event helps these villagers live with hope," says Ton. "Our message to them is that we love them and care for them, and our team will never forget them."

Featured in our August 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.