10th Caroline Project – Cambodian Adventure, Helping Build Homes

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We are still continuing to finish out the Caroline Project and wanted to share this one with our followers. For the 10th Caroline Project we decided to give to my (Joel) sister Deb. She has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since her college years and I (we) have always admired her dedication to serve the underserved and provide them with the dignity of a home of their own. Since there was a close relationship with this particular Caroline Project, we had the idea to have her as a guest writer for our blog. We are glad we did as you can read her inspiring and honest words below.

I was honored to be chosen as Joel and Anna’s latest Caroline Project recipient to help send me on my adventure to Cambodia this past November with a team of 20 through Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program.  But, what came next…“Will you consider being a guest blogger?”…well, immediately that put this introvert into panic mode.  Putting my thoughts and reflections into a blog and then sending it out into the cyber world for all to read is not something that this girl dreams about.  But, I’m willing to take the risk…so here goes.

I got involved with Habitat over 18 years ago, and taking a Global Village trip soon became one of my Habitat bucket list items.  For those not familiar with the Global Village (GV) program, it is Habitat for Humanity’s international volunteer program. Teams travel to other countries to work alongside families, build housing solutions, and experience the local culture.   It’s hard to believe that I have been involved with Habitat for that long, and that it finally took celebrating my 10 year work anniversary this past June with my current affiliate to give me the push to finally plan a GV trip.  It had always been a “someday” type of venture.  You know, we all have those “someday” trips, experiences, goals, plans,…we’ll get to it “someday.”   Someday is like tomorrow, it doesn’t become reality until you seize the opportunity and take the first step forward.   So, I was finally on my way to fundraise for my first GV trip…finally on my way to Cambodia!

Although I was super eager to be embarking on this adventure, I was also more and more anxious about what to expect as the time of departure came closer and closer.  It had been a while since I had traveled internationally, so I had so many different types of emotions running through me…excitement, unbelief, anxiety, fear, and great anticipation.

Plus I was dealing with the stress of getting the laundry list of things done both personally and professionally before I could take flight, but I knew once I was en route, the things holding me back would start to melt away and this adventure would change my life in so many different ways—more ways than I could ever imagine.  It was time to let go, and bring on my adventure…

My team was diverse and included members from around the world. I knew only the two trip leaders and looked forward to getting to know the rest as we spent the time building homes for two families, experiencing the Cambodian culture, and bonding over dinners, Cambodian excursions, AcroYoga, and the commonality that every person deserves a decent place to call home.

DSCN0822cropped family

In Cambodia, more than 25% live on the equivalent of less of $1.25 a day. In rural areas, many live in inadequate housing, and access to piped water and proper sanitation facilities is extremely low. My team would spend our work week building a home from ground up for So Heng, a widow who sells fish at the market, two of her children, and her grandson.  Part of our team would also assist another family continuing to make progress on his two story home under his skilled leadership.  We all became well-versed in the art of bricklaying, mortar mixing, and rebar tying in the grueling heat and humidity in the Battambang region of northwestern Cambodia.

One of my worries for my trip revolved around food…what would I eat?  For those who know me, it’s a common concern, even at a potluck.  I tend to like things fairly plain and pure, not a lot of sauces, and I just am not very adventurous when it comes to eating, but I also have experienced enough cultures to know you graciously accept whatever is offered.

In Cambodia, at my first dinner with some of my new team members, I chose to embrace opportunity….I volunteered to hold a live tarantula and then ate a fried tarantula, yes, I did just say that I ATE a fried tarantula (at least all 8 legs…now, the body, well, that was a different story!).   After that, throughout the week, more and more, I embraced the food adventures and tried almost all of it.

PicMonkey Collage food

Amazingly enough, I liked most of what I tried…even things that I don’t like in the States. The food is grown differently, fresh, in its purest form, not processed.  I loved the Cambodian cuisine.  Actually, I have had the hardest time adjusting back to food in the U.S., and I long to be back in Cambodia eating the fresh fruit and various local dishes our hosts showered us with.  I wish I could find some Cambodian cuisine around Columbus, especially the produce…I haven’t given up just yet, and I am still on the hunt.

In Cambodia, I found rest and restoration.  Although well intended in my day to day life, I rarely take the time God envisioned for us to rest and be restored. I have a wooden saying in my office of Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” to constantly remind me to take time for rest and seek God’s refuge for peace and renewal. Instead of leaning into God and taking a sabbatical from the busyness to refocus and recharge, I tend to overbook and over-stress my life to the point of weariness.

I tend to tell myself, I’ll get to that “rest thing” eventually, but first I need to focus on completing X, Y, and Z.  When I do take the time to rest, I cannot seem to let myself fully be still, to surrender.  All of the daily lists keep running through my head, which then defeats the purpose.  At home, I have a plaque of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God” to serve as another reminder of stillness, surrender and trust.  Even with multiple reminders, it still is hard to let go of the things life throws at me, and seek refuge to rest and to be rejuvenated in all of the beauty God surrounds us with.

In Cambodia, I was able to step away from the daily distractions of work, technology, self-generated fears, and just life in general and find peace and restoration half way across the world.  Although we worked hard each day in the heat and humidity, my body and soul never grew weary as it easily tends to do back home in my daily routine.  Each morning before starting our brick laying and mortar mixing, our team circled up for a brief 5-10 minutes of stretching, meditating and re-centering ourselves toward the untapped day that lay ahead…letting go of the previous day, and focusing on the potential of that new day.

I found sanctuary in my new surroundings, my team, the beauty created around me, in our hosts and leaders, and in experiencing the Cambodian culture and way of life.  I found inner peace and balance through yoga, solitude, friendship, and the love of humanity.

I found joy in the smiles and laughter of the children we met and played with.  Boy, did I find joy with the children!   I found joy in our wonderful hosts and all the new experiences we had.   I found joy in the beauty of this country and its people and for all the new friends I came away with.

PicMonkey Collage children

My time in Cambodia will forever be imprinted on my heart and has been life altering.  It has stirred awake my almost forgotten love of adventure and exploring new places and things.  It has encouraged me to actively seek out new opportunities and experiences.  It has aroused a need for healthy living and adjusting my lifestyle to incorporate more self-care, yoga, rest, stillness, surrender, and balance.

Time seems to fly by faster and faster as we get older and the monotony and the busyness of life seem to just wear us down, to where we constantly say, “tomorrow…” or “someday…” then years later we wonder where the time went.  For now, I am working on ways to seize each day, find the joy, look for beauty, love humanity, filter out the unnecessary noise, take risks, embrace opportunity, and create my own opportunity through becoming a GV trip leader.

I am sure Joel and Anna didn’t realize the full impact that their Caroline Project contribution would make, and I am truly appreciative of their support as well as many others who joined them in supporting me.

I am ready to take on the next adventures God has in store for me…..got my passport, will definitely travel…