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Volunteers from more than 25 nations build in Asia’s Mekong region for the 2009 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project

November 18, 2009


“I am sure that those who have not truly experienced volunteerism don’t know what they’re missing. When they do have a chance to experience it, they will realize they have many hidden gifts and abilities and, above all, their outlook on life will change.”

Ernesto Castro Garcia is the Regional Program Manager for Mekong and South East Asia, working in Habitat for Humanity’s Asia/Pacific office. Originally from Costa Rica, he now provides close support for new housing projects in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Throughout the last year, Ernesto has been strongly involved in the development of Habitat for Humanity’s annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP), particularly in Thailand, the main site for the event.

Since 1984, former United States President and Mrs. Carter have faithfully given one week of their time raising awareness and building homes through the Carter Work Project.

This is not the first time that Mr. Garcia has helped organize a CWP event, which is hosted in a different location each year and involves thousands of volunteers. In 2004, he participated in the Carter Work Project in Mexico as director for Puebla, one of two work sites involved in the event. He was again a CWP director in India, 2006. This year, Ernesto has provided support for each of the five Asian countries involved in the event.

“This year has been especially challenging, because the event is taking place in five different places at once,” Ernesto explains, “these being Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Laos. More than 160 houses are going up in a single week, with thousands of volunteers from more than 25 countries around the world. The final goal is that the project will help Habitat to serve more than 50,000 families in the next five years. I am certain that the outcome will be very positive for all of the participating programs.”

Ernesto is doing “a little of everything,” from supporting the construction and community development teams, to attending meetings and coordinating transportation for the volunteers each morning.

The 2009 Mekong build has welcomed volunteers from nations as diverse as New Zealand, Romania, United States, Philippines, Australia and Korea. The sweltering temperatures and communication between diverse languages have been a challenge, but volunteers, families, supporters and staff have been equally moved by the experience.

Ernesto has witnessed unique moments. “Today, I heard that one partner family member had not been able to sleep for the last three nights from the happiness of watching his house go up, seeing so many volunteers working together, and being part of an event as big as this one.”

He also shares how a colleague from his office reacted to the inauguration ceremony, exclaiming, “Wow! I thought that just a few houses would be built…I never expected an event of this magnitude.” Later, when asked what she thought of the experience, she replied, “I have never participated in such a unique event (in regards to the volunteers, homes, communication and logistics), but neither have I ever enjoyed myself so much.”

Local celebrities, such as John Abraham, Jet Li, Pooja Bedi, Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata and South Korean actress Seo-Jin Lee, have built alongside volunteers throughout the week.

For all those who care about housing issues back home in Latin America and the Caribbean, Ernesto encourages them to experience the impact of volunteer work at least once in their life. “I am sure that those who have not truly experienced volunteerism don’t know what they’re missing. When they do have a chance to experience it, they will realize they have many hidden gifts and abilities and, above all, their outlook on life will change; they will realize that there are many ways of giving, and to give is also to receive.”

For more information about the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, visit www.habitat.org.