Cambodian man Sinn Meang’s father was killed by the Khmer Rouge, leaving behind three children in a poverty-stricken rural village.
“It was very difficult. We had no money and no choices,” Sinn said.
With no funding to continue his education, Sinn left school in the Australian equivalent of eighth grade, moving to the city to work in the construction industry.
He laboured for eight hours a day earning $AU1.25 per shift.
However, Sinn felt privileged in comparison to some of his fellow villagers.
“My mum told me all the time if I had something good myself, I needed to give something good to someone else,” he said.
“Cambodia is a Buddhist country so we believe in karma — you do something good and something good returns to you.”
With his mother’s words in the back of his mind, Sinn combined his charitable nature with his construction skills to establish Volunteer Building Cambodia in 2014.
The organisation hosts international volunteers, primarily from Australian high schools, who work to build traditional Khmer-style stilted houses for Cambodian villagers at a cost of roughly $AU3,000 per building.
Byron Bay High School in northern New South Wales is one of the institutions that has been sending volunteer student groups to Cambodia to work with Sinn.
Acting principal Mark Smith said a student group that recently returned from Cambodia had raised $8,000 to build two houses during their trip.
“It’s certainly a culture shock for our students,” he said.
“The students come to appreciate that the world is a lot different and diverse than what they see in Byron Bay.”
Sinn is currently visiting Australia for the first time to thank some of the volunteers who have helped his charity.
“I want to cry sometimes because I’m very lucky to know these people,” he said.
“Cambodia does have rich people, but they don’t help each other.
“The people here [in Australia] are spending their time and money to help my people.
“I want to sing, I’m very, very happy to be able to build homes for people in need.”