Staff Stories: Ms San Thida, Patient Assistant and Habitat Homeowner

As Patient Assistant at Meanchey Referral Hospital in Phnom Penh, Ms San Thida is responsible for ensuring that reception runs smoothly. She is also part of a team that refers patients to Build House Build Positive Lives: a collaborative project between AUA and Habitat for Humanity Cambodia that has helped more than 30 people living with HIV to access adequate accommodation over the past two years. For vulnerable Cambodians, a new home can bring benefits to health, income security and overall wellbeing for the whole family. This is something Thida understands well, as she herself is a Habitat Homeowner.


To mark World Habitat Day 2016, we sat down with Thida to hear more about her story and how life has changed since she moved into her new Habitat home.


Before she joined the AUA team, Thida worked for almost 20 years in a garment factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. She had to travel a long way by bus between her workplace and the house where she was living in Kien Svay commune, Kandal province. At that time, Thida lived with her husband, their three young children and Thida’s mother and step-father, who owned the home. When she took her position at AUA, Thida received a gift from one of her colleagues: a bicycle. This allowed her to save money on transport, but she still had to ride almost 12kms to and from work every day. It was a difficult time for Thida and her family for many reasons.

In 2014, Maryknoll offered to help Thida by referring her to Habitat for Humanity Cambodia. She still remembers the day she was told that her application for a new home had been approved and the warm feelings she experienced. The first step in the process was finding a suitable piece of land. Habitat supported Thida to find a location in Ta Khmau commune and Maryknoll stepped in to assist with buying the building materials and furniture. It didn’t take long for Thida’s house to be finished; everyone came together for a small party to celebrate the milestone.

Thida’s new house is built in a modern style and she says that many of her neighbors are jealous and want to copy the design. The house sits on high stilts and although she often feels nervous during storms and high winds, Thida knows the house is well-built and strong enough to protect her.

Thida has been living in her new house for two years now and in that time, life has changed in many ways. Before, her husband had to travel long distances to work and often stayed away in the city, but now Thida says they are happier because they can stay together. He has been able to take a second job and as a result, save more money to pay for the children’s school fees. For Thida, the new house is still a long distance from her workplace, but now that she has a motorbike, she finds day-to-day life a lot easier. Thida receives weekly home visits from her doctor to support her health, and since the new house is in a more convenient location, she has been better able to maintain regular checkups.

Thida’s three children – now aged 17, 15 and six years old – still live in Kien Svay with their grandparents due to the difficulties associated with changing schools. Thida, who left school herself after Grade 8 to start working in the garment factory, values her children’s education above everything else. Although it’s a huge sacrifice to live apart from them, she feels happy knowing that their learning hasn’t been disrupted. When they finish their studies, Thida looks forward to having the whole family under the same roof again.

Reflecting on her experience with Habitat for Humanity Cambodia, Thida says the best outcome is the confidence that has come from owning her own home. She values the independence she has gained and the simple pleasure of having her own space.


You can read more about Build House Build Positive Lives here. Image credit: Habitat for Humanity.