Homes for Hope in Cambodia
By Julia Kayser
Mission Interns spend 18 months abroad and 18 months in the United States working towards peace and justice. They are supported by the General Board of Global Ministries, which places them with partner organizations. Joseph Bradley’s first assignment as a Mission Intern was working with orphans and street children and teaching English at the Methodist School of Cambodia. Many Mission Interns go on to become leaders in the church or in other nonprofit organizations. Joseph was inspired by his time in Cambodia to start a project called Homes for Hope.
The neighborhood in Phnom Penh where Joseph worked stood in marked contrast to his previous home in Katy, Texas. One of the things that first caught Joseph off-guard was the omnipresent shadow of the Khmer Rouge. “There’s really not a single person in Cambodia who wasn’t affected in some way, shape, or fashion by the genocide of the 1970s,” says Joseph. For example, one of his co-workers at the Methodist School, Reaksa Keo, had been orphaned by the Khmer Rouge. His childhood was a collage of years living with monks, with a sick uncle, with friends, and on the streets.
Reaksa shared with Joseph that with only an eighth-grade education, it was hard for him to find work that paid well. He and his wife struggled to make ends meet on a salary of only $125 per month. His young son, Jim, was almost school-aged, but the family wasn’t sure they could afford books and uniforms. They spent $40 per month on rent. Joseph had an idea: perhaps the family could eliminate this monthly expense by building a house on Reaksa’s mother-in-law’s property.
However, when Joseph reached out to local NGOs to secure funding, he was told that they could not help Reaksa because he was not the poorest of the poor. Joseph was left asking, “How is $125 a month not poor enough?” There is very little support for families like Reaksa’s who have a high enough income to pay for their most basic expenses, but who are still far from financial security.
With the generous support of Katy First United Methodist Church in Texas, where Joseph worked as a youth director before his time as a Mission Intern, more than $6,000 was raised to pay for the materials and labor for Reaksa’s house. They called the project “Home for Hope,” because having a place of one’s own is the ultimate symbol of hope for those who grew up homeless. By the time Joseph left Cambodia, the walls of Reaksa’s house were being painted. “What God is doing, through our hands, is really an extraordinary thing,” writes Joseph, “and we are just blessed to be a part of it all.” The family now lives in relative financial security and takes a great deal of pride in the new home that they helped to design and build.
Photo: Joseph and Reaksa’s son Jim play with toys as they break ground for the house. Credit: Reaksa Keo