When Mrs Lid Borey was a house mother living at the Hope Community Centre with her two young daughters during the centre’s orphanage days, no-one knew much at all about her background or where she had really come from. But Hope social workers, using their trademark softly-softy, gradualist approach learned that Mother Borey still owned a block of land with a derelict house that she had abandoned many years ago due to unspecified bad memories. The memories must have been very bad. At first Mother Borey could hardly bring herself to talk about, much less visit the place, but eventually Hope coaxed her and her daughters to set foot on the property and reconnect with her relations in the village of Roca not far from Hope. One day, after four years at Hope, she decided she would return with her children to live on the family plot.
The existing house had to be demolished first, a feat achieved by a visiting volunteer team from Melbourne Grammar School with the enthusiastic help of Mother Borey and her daughters, who worked their hands raw with the demolition work and helping build a simple two-room home in its place. It had a traditional outside Khmer “kitchen“, Hope paid for local builders to construct the house and Hope’s resident uber-handyman Mr Chan Davy took care of the roof.As part of its US$7000 per month Community Outreach program, Hope now uses an internationally benchmarked family assessment approach to supply virtually all the family’s needs such as rice, money for vegetables, cooking charcoal, school uniforms, books and bikes, toothpaste, soap and shampoo, and even a little pocket money so that the two girls can share in the activities of their friends – which 14-year-old Sambathy loves to spend on cakes at school.Importantly, because the family has no water supply, Hope arranges for the two big stone urns in front of the veranda to be filled by water truck every month so that the family can drink, bathe, wash clothes and dishes, water the garden – and clean their teeth. On the day that we arrive with Hope community outreach social worker Channa on her monthly visit, the brushes are sitting on the urn, and Channa no doubt happily records their use in her files.
We ask the family how they’re finding their simple new home, and not surprisingly perhaps, they’re loving it. Mrs Boray is particularly impressed by the high ceilings, an unusual feature compared to restrictive Cambodia ceilings. And the girls like the safety of using an inside toilet at night. But most of Mrs Borey loves the veranda, where she can sit and talk to friends, her daughters and relations. Two related families live nearby, and as we talk her sister arrives and quietly sits down behind her.Seventeen-year-old daughter Born Borey says her mother feels incredibly happy to be home and to have such good relationships with neighbours. For her daughters the move from here from Hope’s former orphanage has meant they now have some little personal items they can call their own, and more freedom, riding the bikes Hope bought them to secondary school but also to visit friends.
With mother and daughters living alone in the house, Born Borey says they sometimes worry and usually stay inside and lock the door at night despite the heat. So, after this visit, Hope will investigate installing a solar-powered light outside the house (the solar-powered lights inside were provided by an Australian donor). We’ll also investigate building a grilled security door behind the front door so that Mrs Borey and her daughters can leave the front door open at night during the stifling Cambodian heat and humidity, and also look into closing off the property with a small gate to further increase security.Now that they have a settled home, Mrs Borey’s daughters are starting to plan for the future. Both are at secondary school – no small achievement in Cambodia – and are thinking of attending the nearby University of Battambang. Born Beray, who is taking English classes, wants to study medicine while younger Sambathy, after considering a career in teaching, is currently leaning towards – perhaps like many girls around the glove – becoming an air hostess. (It’s an imaginative choice, given that Battambang has no airport or planes overhead.)
Whatever they choose, Hope will support them as far as possible. If they do attend the university, this will ease Mrs Borey’s fears about her daughters leaving her on her own to work elsewhere, because they can commute from home to the university. As part of Hope’s Education Transition program, it would help finance their university education and perhaps even a small motorbike to get them to university.
As we drive away, Mrs Borey’s two hens are pecking amid her garden of lemongrass, chilli, eggplant, pawpaw and aloevera. And like her two daughters, they’ll never give up.