Russell Armer Apprentice Has Life-Changing Cambodian Experience

Posted on December 20, 2017 | Charity, News

Here at Russell Armer Homes, the feeling that it is better to give than to receive is very strong this Christmas, thanks to the feedback we have had from our young apprentice, Connor Dixon.

Nineteen-year-old Connor, who lives in Kendal, has just returned from Cambodia, where he took a very active part in the Home Builders Federation-backed ‘Habitat for Humanity’ Charity Project, which is focused on creating homes for vulnerable families in some of the most impoverished communities in the UK and overseas.

We chose Connor to represent us on the basis of the hard work that he put into his daily tasks during the period of time in which we were assessing who to select.  He has most definitely justified his selection.

Connor led from the front in Cambodia, acted as a true Cumbrian construction ambassador and brought joy to a local family.  He also gained as much from the experience as he gave.

Connor says: “It was a real culture shock when I arrived in Cambodia, as the towns, the traffic, the smells and sounds were just unlike anything I had ever encountered.  I tried to soak it all in and adjust to a completely different environment from that here in Cumbria.”

Despite being so young, Connor was appointed a ‘house leader’, marshalling a team of eight, which included Englishmen, Scots and Australians, and engaging in a daily challenge to understand the different accents.  The aim was to build a house within a week, with everyone working on a variety of building tasks, from bricklaying to joinery and the laying of a concrete floor.  Although Connor’s speciality is joinery, he quickly threw himself into everything.

With 300 volunteers on site, some from a construction background and others who were charity volunteers with no formal training in building, Connor has explained that there was a real exchange of knowledge, both on-site and back in the hotel, where all project volunteers stayed.

Connor says he learned how different nations have very different approaches to construction and health and safety.  One example came when he insisted on re-baring the wall of his house, as he has been taught here at Russell Armer, even though others had no idea what this process was about.

Having taken his own tools out to Cambodia, he was also surprised to discover that many of his fellow workers had never seen a brick bolster for chopping bricks.  It caused such a stir that it even became one of the most photographed things on site, much to Connor’s amusement.  He generously donated it to the project.

Whilst tackling the construction of an entire house within a week was challenging in itself, Connor and his team also had to contend with temperatures of 40°C and humidity of 90 per cent.  The food – stodgy rice plus meat – also took some getting used to, whilst Connor really came to appreciate how privileged we are in this country to have clean water, literally on tap.

Despite the different culture, climate and food, Connor led his team superbly and his house was the first to be completed on the site, built in an incredible five days.  The reward came in the form of meeting the family – mother, father and two children – who now live in this house, and attending a blessing of their new home, in keeping with Buddhist tradition.  This was an emotional experience for all involved.  Now, if the family live there for ten years, they will receive official documentation from the Cambodian government, which will make the home theirs to keep.

Connor says: “This was a life-changing experience for me, not just because of what we achieved, but because I came to see that, although the Cambodian people we met have virtually no material possessions and exist with what we would regard as a poor quality of life, every single one of them is happy, smiling all the time, full of humility and kindness and never angry or downbeat.  They have their family and friends and that is all they need to be happy.  That taught me so much.

“I am determined to return and also take on other projects like this, where I can physically see that my contribution is actually helping people in need and creating positive and tangible impacts.

“I am so grateful to have had this experience and to have had such great training with Russell Armer Homes, as this was invaluable out in Cambodia.”

Our Construction Director, Andrew Taylor, says: “Connor fully deserved this opportunity and really made the most of it, throwing himself into the project, using his skills and leadership qualities and acting with a maturity beyond his years.  We are so proud of him and what he achieved and are delighted that he feels it was a life-changing experience.”