A heart for helping

WHEN YOUR HEART IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE GREAT THINGS CAN BE ACHIEVED AND THIS COULD NOT BE TRUER OF THE COLLABORATION BETWEEN A LOCAL BUILDING COMPANY OWNER AND A MOTORBIKE TOUR OPERATOR IN CAMBODIA.

When 34 year old Ben Comelli founded the Tempo Group ten years ago, the young entrepreneur was committed to giving back and, last year, 11 members from Tempo constructed and gifted houses to families in remote Cambodia. And so the friendship between Ben and Jason Thatcher, founder of Global Village Housing began, culminating in a project that is launching this month to raise enough funds to build and deliver more than 50 homes, including a school, in flood affected areas of Cambodia.

With Ben’s mantra “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” and Jason’s philosophy that everyone deserves a place to call home, the pair aim to break the cycle of poverty.

‘The tour of Cambodia we did last year changed a lot of people’s lives. We always try to do something that will make a difference with our work team building trips and on this trip we did the dirt bike tours with Jason but found that he was also running Global Village Housing. The night before we started building the houses, I surprised the team with it and the next day their lives were changed. We built and gifted houses to families and that has had a ripple effect with many suppliers and clients showing interest in the same thing when we returned,” said Ben who has remained in contact with Jason ever since. “Now we are launching our project to raise $250,000 to build and gift homes to 50 families across disadvantaged Cambodia.”

There’s a certain synchronicity to the association with Ben’s company, Tempo Group, building high-end homes and now building homes for those in extreme poverty. Yet it wasn’t until the pair got together they realised the connection. Jason, a former business owner in Mornington, had owned the factory next door to Ben for 23 years, yet it wasn’t until a work tour that the two men met.

“Global Village Housing is a grass-roots, passionate and dedicated organisation working hard to make the right changes in Cambodia,” said Jason, who founded the organisation in 2009, after travelling around South East Asia and working closely with not-for-profit organisations. “With the motorbikes, I had seen the extreme poverty in the remote villages that most people don’t get to. I knew that having a safe place to call home was the first step to help break the poverty cycle. Living conditions in the remote villages of Cambodia are some of the worst in the world; unsafe, unsanitary and unsure. Many families live on rubbish dumps, which is where the house gifting started. I built homes that were three metres by three metres as that was the area each family was living in and I didn’t want to encroach on other families. Now the houses we build are 3.6metres by 3.6 metres. They are on stilts and have a lockable door, windows, insulation, and solar lights which seem to be the favorite things of the families who have never had lights before,” said Jason, who works closely with local community leaders to find suitable land for the homes and choose families to gift them to. “We give the homes free to the families who sign a contract saying they will not be sold or rented. This is important as some of the families are in debt, even if it is just $50 and they are lucky if they earn a dollar a day. So we make sure they cannot be taken by loan sharks for instance.”

Since beginning Global Village Housing eight years ago, they have built 140 homes for families with plans to build many more. Living in Cambodia and Vietnam much of the year, Jason is also aware of the need for schools so this year started building a school for over 100 children.

“When we saw the conditions of the children in schools which were nothing more than a dirt hut with no floor, no toilets and no playground, we knew something had to be done. Now we are in the process of renovating a school and 160 children will go there. We have built five toilets, a washroom, classroom, and a great playground. And all the kids have just received new uniforms, books, backpacks, and school supplies. For a lot of them it’s the first time they have had shoes,” said Jason.

For Ben, seeing the living conditions of the families was a real eye opener, particularly the fact that 20 per cent of children are still dying in Cambodia.

“They are the most beautiful people but conditions need to change which is why we have aligned with Global Village Housing.

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