‘The houses TCF build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity were modest, clean, but provided a dignity for the lucky families that we could support.’

One of the projects that I liked best from the many hundreds which The Charitable Foundation (TCF) have done was the provision of affordable housing to the very poor. Our partner in this was Habitat for Humanity. The Charitable Foundation put a sum of money into a revolving fund so that loans could be provided and when repaid the money would then be used to fund another family.

Families would then be selected based on need. They would be loaned the money and placed in groups where they would cross pledge to support the other members of the group in their repayments. The repayments would then be put back into the fund. What I loved was that for each round there would be about a 10 per cent default rate. We would not foreclose on default, because generally if there was a repayment problem then it was for reasons beyond the family’s control.

The photos below are from three areas where we sourced the families. These photos clearly show how difficult the lives of many people are.

As we walked up the street in Phnom Penh, we realised that the water running down it was sewer. It stunk. The houses on the side housed up to ten people. All sleeping in one or two rooms. One image is vividly imprinted in my memory. As we were wading through the filth I glanced into one of the shacks. There were three people laying on one bed. It was obvious they were very sick. What struck me was that getting sick in these unsanitary environments made recovery very difficult and death just that much more possible.

Another place where we went to interview potential families for the project was to those living in the local garbage tip. The way this turned out was much different to what I expected. They didn’t want to move. That was because they made their living from scrounging through the garbage. If they moved then they would have to commute to the tip. The best houses were right on the edge of the tip. Evidently it gave more options for scrounging and the proximity to the tip meant getting to the best items first. Moving away would reduce their income.

It was almost dusk and there was a storm coming and as we were leaving I noticed a woman washing her eating utensils. The water she was using to wash in was from a small toxic stream running through the tip. The water had a black tinge through it and had a distinctive chemical smell to it. 

What I realised was that it was hard for me to imagine a life where you would prefer to live in these conditions over a clean house, but the choices the impoverished have to make so that they can survive is very difficult for us to comprehend.

The houses TCF build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity were modest, clean, but provided a dignity for the lucky families that we could support. The improvements in health, hygiene and happiness are transformational. Each time a new house was completed there would be an opening ceremony and a small celebration.