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Holcim Cement Supports HFH Vietnam With Building Materials And Labor

Nearly 80 Volunteers Make Earth Blocks & Help Build A Home

KIEN GIANG, 6th December 2007: Swiss cement company Holcim has a vision to build the foundations for society’s future. Halfway round the globe, it sees the vision being realized in the life of Danh Thi Ny in southern Vietnam.

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Steady progress: The staff of Holcim pouring cement into interlocking compressed earth blocks.

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High-powered: Holcim executives helped to make interlocking compressed earth blocks used for Ny’s home.

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Laborious: Ny and her daughter earn less than US$1 a day cleaning small fish to be sold to local restaurants.

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Willing hands: Many of the Holcim volunteers were new to Habitat builds but expressed joy at being able to help a family.

Eleven executives from Holcim (Cement) Ltd in Ho Chi Minh City recently took time off from busy schedules to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam. They were in Kien Luong district, Kien Giang province, to learn how to make interlocking compressed earth blocks (ICEB) and to use them in constructing a new house for Danh Thi Ny. Her house is the first to be built by HFH Vietnam using the environmentally friendly ICEB technology.

In a new partnership that began in October 2007, Holcim (Cement) Ltd contributed gifts-in-kind to HFH Vietnam, including cement, soil and sand as well as the use of their Hon Chong cement plant in Kien Giang province. Eight Habitat construction staff were trained in the use of ICEB technology. The technology drew much interest from the Holcim executives as it drastically cuts down carbon dioxide emissions from traditional kiln-fired clay bricks.  

After the stint by Holcim executives, it was the turn of 68 staff from Holcim’s operations in Vietnam. They worked for nine days to reinforce the foundation and build the walls of Danh Thi Ny’s new house. The Holcim volunteers were joined by other teams including English teachers in Japan and local trade union members.

Ny would check on the progress of the construction each day, watching each brick being laid with a smile. Having lived in a thatch and bamboo house all her 50 odd years, Ny never thought she would ever own a new home. The 54-year-old widow is no stranger to poverty, growing up among seven children and later, having to rely on the generosity of others and siblings when she is short on cash. Ni became the sole breadwinner after the death of her husband six years ago.

Ny, her daughter and her sister clean small fish that is sold to local restaurants. After eight hours of cleaning 5 kg. of fish, their wages amount to 15,000 dong (95 US cents) a day. To make ends meet, Ny also takes on other daily rated work in the community, from planting to harvesting rice.

She crossed path with HFH Vietnam when Habitat staff visited the Binh Tre commune to assess housing needs. Before Habitat’s visit, Ny was advised by the local government that did a survey of housing needs in the community, to first build a foundation if she wished to have priority in receiving a new house. The preparation came in handy when HFH Vietnam’s volunteer program coordinator, Gail Campbell, spotted the foundation that Ny had started to build and shortlisted her to receive the first Habitat house in the community.

“I never thought this would happen to us,” Ny said on the fourth day of the build. The walls were up and as the roof beams were being set she stood and stared at her home.

“This makes me so very happy to know that my family finally has a new home that we can share for many years.”

For the 60-odd Holcim volunteers, they shared the experience of working together to change the life of a family who had lived their entire lives in poverty. For all who worked on Ny’s house this was the first time they had mixed cement and built walls but they saw what teamwork could produce.

“I feel very happy and proud to be here with the older ladies from Holcim to help build her house,” said Ly Thy Xuan Mai.

“We all had never done work like this before so it was a good learning experience to be here to help Ny and her children have a better chance in life with this house.”

Holcim (Cement) Ltd’s manger, Ian Campbell, who was among the Holcim executives who built with Habitat, was pleased with the results.

“This was one of the best team building events that I have experienced. The team members were all very enthusiastic before the build, and satisfied and proud at the end.

“I was especially happy for all volunteers to witness how our efforts and our product touch people’s lives. This helps remind us that our product isn’t just about roads and big buildings, it is also about building homes for families,” he added.

Pham Hoang Anh, a local volunteer who also worked on Ny’s house, said: “I think our project is good because we can bring happiness to the poor and reduce the difficulties in their lives. It is a small house but it contains our hearts.”