[A] young apprentice from Kendal has led from the front as a Cumbrian construction ambassador, bringing joy to a community in Cambodia and gaining as much from the experience as he gave.
Connor Dixon, aged 19, was chosen by his employer, Russell Armer Homes, to be part of 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.
Connor says he was surprised to be chosen as Russell Armer Homes’ representative, although he admits he worked extremely hard to put himself in contention for the experience. The culture shock he felt on arrival in Cambodia started a process that has enriched the young man and taught him many life lessons.
Despite being so young, he 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.
With 300 volunteers on site, some from a construction background and others who were charity volunteers with no formal training in building, there was a real exchange of knowledge, both on-site and back in the hotel, where all project volunteers stayed.
Connor soon 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 had been taught by 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.”
Speaking on behalf of Russell Armer Homes, 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.”
More information about the project can be found at www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk whilst those wishing to know more about careers with Russell Armer Homes can find contact details at www.russell-armer.co.uk