I have a small, but totally real addiction to home improvement shows. I’ve loved them for years, taking endless delight in the redemptive cycle of broken to beautiful, broken to beautiful.
My week in Cambodia was like one big HGTV before and after: Cambodia Village Edition.
We got to see an example of what communities are like before World Vision begins work—the depth of the hardship people in these villages are facing. And we got to see the finished product—the transformation, and improvement in quality of life that’s possible with an investment, heaps of love, and a lot of hard work.
The result was one of the best makeovers I’ve ever seen. But I have to tell you, just like homeowners on HGTV, I had my doubts along the way.
There are lots of organizations doing good in the world. Clean water, food for people who are hungry, fighting human trafficking, the works. And I want to hug and high five every single one of them.
So because there are so many organizations doing beautiful work, I walked into this week with World Vision secretly wondering why their projects were more deserving of my dollar than any other.
And I have to admit, at first the answer was disappointing.
When contractors go into broken down houses, sometimes all the fixes are cosmetic. They’re the sexy changes, the fun ones, the ones we crave. The fix-it list includes things like new appliances instead of old, granite counters to replace the yellow, 80’s laminate ones, a spa-like master bath to replace the pink tile that covered every surface. (Who ever said pink bathrooms were a good idea?!)
We get excited about those changes—picking out the finishes with the glee of a kiddo with a cupcake.
But sometimes the contractors emerge from their inspections with bad news. Sometimes the changes aren’t just cosmetic.
The foundation, the plumbing, the wiring, the roof. The foundational, fundamental parts of the house are broken and in order to transform the house in a way that will last, they have to fix it all.
If you’ve ever seen this happen on TV, the homeowners are usually furious. They wanted the quick fix, to talk about subway tile, curb appeal, things they can see and appreciate immediately.
But any good contractor will insist on a complete renovation. They know that it doesn’t matter how spectacular the stainless steel appliances look if the house is falling down.
What I discovered this last week (my quick-transformation-loving-self groaning all the while) is that World Vision is a really good contractor. They’re totally uninterested in quick fixes.
They know that a shiny coat of paint, or a new school building just isn’t enough. They’ve seen that one problem sits on top of another, and intertwines with a third. They’re inextricably linked.
And even though their methods totally aren’t sexy, the way they do things makes sense.
Let me show you what I mean.
One of the communities we visited survives almost exclusively on their ability to grow rice. They eat rice, they sell rice, their family’s survival is dependent on rice. However rice is dependent on water, and for the last few years, they’ve been experiencing a drought.
That means very little food, very little income, which leaves the parents with very few options.
First, parents pull their kids out of school. The school fees are too expensive, and education feels pretty secondary when there’s not enough food to go around. So kids are brought home to care for the house, their younger siblings, or if they’re old enough, sent out to work.
But this usually isn’t enough. The parents can’t earn a living in the rice fields, so they have to look elsewhere.
One option is to work in the garment factories. Long hours, very little pay, dangerous working conditions, and often far from home—garment factories aren’t an awesome alternative.
The other alternative is even worse. Many of the kids we met have parents who have moved to Thailand to look for work. Not only does this take them away from their kids, it’s also the perfect opportunity for human trafficking to take place. When moving to a different country for work, people need a middle man to help them find a job, or work papers, or a passport, and there’s no way for them to know who’s honest and who’s not.
On top of these issues, there are a whole host of other ones. Communities don’t have a whole lot of training for how to grow crops. There’s no scientific farming manual floating around the villages. So they’re just doing the best they can, which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
Also, there isn’t a whole lot of training for parents on how to provide their kids proper nutrition. Bellies may be full, but kids experience stunting, debilitating malnutrition often because of a simple lack of awareness about what nutrients kids need.
Many people don’t know that it’s not okay to drink water straight out of the river, or the water that collects when it rains. People are sick again and again and again, and many of them aren’t aware that it’s because they’re drinking dirty water. (And even if they are, they don’t have the time or the resources to purify it).
The problems are an intricate, complicated web, and unfortunately a sexy solution (a playground, for example), isn’t going to do much to change the quality of life for these wonderful, hurting people.
And that’s where World Vision comes in. They begin their time in every community by doing an intense needs assessment. They hear from parents, students, teachers, community members from kids to grandparents. They figure out what the main problems are, and that’s where they start. They address the educational problems by creating an irrigation system, they keep the families together by teaching better farming practices. It’s a holistic approach, and a group effort. They work side-by-side with the community not for a day, or a week, or a year or two. They’re in it with them for 15 years. The relationships they form are just amazing.
It’s not quick, it’s not sexy, but it’s real transformation, real life-change.
I admit, I’m sad to say at first I was the reluctant homeowner. I wanted to know that my dollar would save a life today, right now, I wanted proof and the satisfaction only HGTV can provide. I wanted a 30-minute transformation, not one that takes 15 years.
But just like a major renovation, it’s a bigger job than that. And if you do it right, working together to fix all the broken parts, not just the fun ones, the result is utterly spectacular.
So my solution is this—I’m sending my dollars World Vision’s way, because I want these beautiful new friends to be well-fed, to have clean water, to have kids and parents together, to have access to great education, and healthcare, and to be safe from human trafficking, and more and more and more.
And when it comes to my quick transformation fix, HGTV is still there waiting for me.
If you want to get involved in what World Vision is doing in Cambodia, click here. I would love for us to join in this effort together.
photos via Laura Reinhardt /World Vision