May 21, 2014

Dear friends and partners,

This is the time of the year when schools in the region close for their long summer break. Miraculously it’s also a few weeks before my daughter Miriam finishes grade 9 – a year of tremendous growth and awareness for my girl – a year when yearend exams have become a part of her life and a part of mine – but we survived and are grateful.

This is also the time of the year when school calendars are out for the following school year – it is also Tabitha’s time of the year for house building schedules – so I would ask all of you who come regularly for house building – whether or not you are a school team – to send us your dates. It would help us so much in our planning as our own plans and budgets are being made for the following program year.

House building has had an enormous impact on so many people – over the years so many of you have shared with us your own personal impacts. I often get the question - but what about Cambodians? Miriam, attends the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP). Every year the grade 10-11s go house building. One of the privileges is always that I can share my thoughts with all the students – but most importantly with the Cambodian students. This year I was very privileged to receive several reflections of their trip –their own personal journey – a journey very different from all of us because for these young people – it is personal.


The first learning outcome I would like to address is 'undertaking new challenges'. The phrase new challenges before meant little to me; it meant taking on new things and just experimenting with possibilities, example sports and languages. However, the orientation at the Tabitha main headquarters led me to a realization that the term new challenges is far broader than I had thought it was, and can also be used to describe a change in lifestyle. The one most important thing that was demanded from us house builders was respect. Respect. True, as the founder of the organization had said, our generation is a rather spoilt generation. We do not fully understand the word respect, and nor can we fully understand what hardships in life really meant. The fact that the one thing she had stressed on was just respect really surprised me, and my first reaction was that even without having to stress on it, respect is needed wherever we go and for whatever we do and that it was obvious. I did not realize, though, the gravity of the term, until the one hour long orientation was over, and until I started to grasp the reason behind her words. Thus, I concluded that being respectful is the most important 'new challenge' in this activity. Compared to this, the nailing of floorboards - my previous 'new challenge' - seems rather insignificant.

Lastly, in this reflection, I would like to thank Ms.Gardner and Tabitha House Building for giving me this opportunity. I was not only taught about the implications of this house building job, but I was reminded of important life values. Most especially, when during orientation it was said "our faces are going to be the last thing [they] think of the day [they] die", I was reminded about how we forget what really matters. These people will judge us by the good we do not by who we were, or where we are from. In our easy lives, we tend to complain, and when not given enough attention, we automatically assume "nobody cares", forgetting the people who DO care. I was reminded once again of how we take things for granted, how we are never really thankful for what we receive. Unlike these people who have only seen "evil" and once given something good, never really forget the feeling of gratitude. The sad thing is that for now, I am reminded, but I know as a fact that in a couple days time - maybe a week - I will forget once again.


A second young adult shared the following:

Before the trip to Toul Sleng and Choeung Ek, the orientation with Janne at the Tabitha House Building head quarters brought me to a realization. Even though I have heard many stories time and again from different people about their experiences during the Khmer Rouge Regime, not one of them have ever mentioned anything about being traumatized. Janne's talk made me realize that many of the people who survived the war would have had post traumatic stress disorder and this made me more cautious and mindful when speaking to survivors about their experiences. Additionally, even though I have lived in Cambodia my whole life and understand that most of the Cambodian people who were victims of the war are incredibly grateful and caring due what they have gone through, I seem to have forgotten these things until Janne's emotional reminder. I feel that even though I know quite a lot about my country and what my relatives and many people around me have gone through, it can be so easily forgotten because the people have moved on, or at least tried to move on, and build their lives from what little they had left. Her much needed reminder have stuck with me and taught me to respect my elders because of how they have come out victorious even after all they have gone through. It is easy to hear a story from a victim and feel empathy for them, but it is also easy to forget their struggles when they can hide it so well. Janne's talk not only allowed me to gain inspiration from the victims and how well they have coped after the war, but she also taught me to never forget people's struggles because even though they might be happy now, bringing back the memories of their trauma could hurt them, therefore it is incredibly important to be more cautious and understanding of their past.


And one more excerpt:

Out of all the activities I think that house building had the biggest impact on me because it really connected to me on a personal level due to the issue of the Khmer rouge. Especially on the day of the field trips when Ms.Ritskes gave the speech I gained so much knowledge and she educated me a lot that day. When visiting the graves and the jail I felt a very emotional connection because my own father had lost his siblings to the Khmer rouge I felt very angered and at the same time sad because of all the suffering these people had to do for one dictator. After the field trips I learnt so much that I will hope to let the future generation understand also. When going on the actual house build I learnt a lot of things such as how to hammer properly and where to hammer the nails. I just felt a joy I never felt before seeing the smiles on the people's faces when completing the houses. I cannot put how unbelievable the experience was.

How thankful I am to my God for this life He has granted to me – how thankful I am for these young people – for all of you – you teach me so much – I pray that none of us ever forget the lessons that house building has taught us. Don’t forget to send us your dates.