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Japanese University Students Learn About Making A Difference To Others’ Lives On Habitat Build In Central Thailand

11-Member Team Helped A Family To Construct Their Home In Nong Suea Village

PATHUM THANI, 13th February 2007: Lessons in life are best learnt outside the lecture halls as several Japanese university volunteers found out on a recent Global Village build with Habitat for Humanity in central Thailand. The volunteers, who came from three universities in Tokyo, discovered that what they did made a big difference and was part of something very meaningful.

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Joint effort: One of the Japanese volunteers (left) and Habitat home partner Athakorn Taeng-on carrying a bag of cement.

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Here you go: Japanese businessman Issiy Mitsunobu Ishizaki (right) passing a bucket of cement to another volunteer.

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Extra curriculum: The Japanese university volunteers learnt valuable lessons after their week-long build in central Thailand.

The 11-member team, comprising students from Japan University, Kanda Gaigo University and Tama University, was led by Mark Zion, an associate professor at the School of Global Studies at Tama University. Since 2003, veteran Habitat volunteer Zion has led 12 teams to countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

For seven days in February 2008, the volunteers worked with Habitat home partner Athakorn Taeng-on to build her new home in Pathum Thani province’s Nong Seua village, about 60 km. north of Bangkok. Occasional rainstorms did not deter the volunteers from laying the concrete foundation and building the walls for the 6 x 12 meter house using interlocking earth blocks.

Even when the weather turned warm, the volunteers soldiered on to mix cement for the house foundation. Among them was Japanese businessman Issiy Mitsunobu Ishizaki, 40, who joined the team after meeting several Japanese volunteers last year. He rolled up the sleeves of his T-shirt, wrapped a towel around his neck and stood next to Mark Zion, mixing the cement for the foundation.

As the buckets were filled with cement, the team fell into line to pass them along but burst out laughing when Mark began to sing an old rock song from the ‘60s. “I guess I really shouldn’t sing, it only makes them laugh,” he said.

Doing her bit was Zion’s student Ayaka Hanami, 19, who was building with Habitat for the second time after her trip to the Philippines last summer. After the last bucket was filled and poured, she took off her hat and wiped her perspiration with a towel. “The most interesting part of working on Habitat houses is the emotional feelings for the home owners who will be living in the house we help build for them. Not only are we learning form the experience but we are taking part in helping a family who really needs a home.”

“One of my goals in life is to be able to help others,” Hanami said, adding that she will be leading a team for the next Habitat build, possibly the Philippines.

Habitat home partner, Athakorn, 36, and her husband Sawat Phootet have a 10-year-old daughter. Their combined monthly income is about 15,000 baht (US$469) from Sawat’s job as a laborer and Athakorn’s earnings as a farmer.

Their new home is the second Habitat house to be built in the Nong Suea community where a total of 11 houses are being planned.

Athakorn, who grew up in the house that she still lived in with her family, said: “It makes me happy to know we will have a new house that is safe and can be the family home for many years to come.

“I am very happy to see these young students come to help me with this house. This means a lot to me and has taught me the importance of helping others.”

Team leader Zion added: “Each of the students learnt about leadership and making friends in different cultures which work well with their majors in global studies. This is hands-on work and teaches them so much about other cultures and themselves.

“One of the students saw the extreme poverty in a community we built in last year in the Philippines. He was so affected by what he saw that he dropped to his knees and began to cry. All of us stood in silence at the reality of that moment and the significance of what it meant to him and to each of us.”

“It has been a privilege to lead each of these teams. Not only do these builds teach the students how to build a house but to take part in the culture of the countries we work in. They learn so much about themselves and the effects they can make on others’ lives.”

Indeed, Mai Togami’s thoughts reflected what Zion noted. Nineteen-year-old Togami, from Tama University, volunteered on a Habitat build in the Philippines in 2007. “Last year I wondered if I would be able to help build a house since I had no experience in construction. I wondered if my efforts would make a difference at all. As my team worked together with the home partner I soon learned what we all did during our time there, did make a huge difference.

Togami said: “We each learnt that whatever we did was part of something very meaningful for the families we helped. Each day we saw our efforts taking shape, such as moving bricks then helping to build the wall.

“The father of the family last year told me, ‘So often people are caught up in earning money to buy things they really do not need. We use our money for the family and share with one another together. We may be poor but we are happy.’ ”