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Looking back…looking forward -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Looking back…looking forward

Compiled by Phillip Jordan

On November 20, 2009, the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project came to an end in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Laos. Thousands of volunteers built alongside 166 partner families during the build week. In January 2010, the majority of those families are already living in their new homes. Here is a look at what’s taken place in The Mekong Build countries since volunteers returned home.



Phairat Sae-Uwa is overcome with emotion over the completed house he will share with his wife, Sangjen, and son, Rushdi, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.



On December 5, the 82nd birthday of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej—in whose honor the 82 Carter project houses were built—Habitat Thailand celebrated by giving back to the community an old school building and school grounds that were used as a construction office and volunteer food tent while the new Habitat community was being built.

The school building had been abandoned and deemed unsafe for use prior to Habitat’s request to borrow it. Habitat refurbished the building for the community and will donate sports equipment and office supplies for the community’s planned use of the space as a new sports center. Habitat Thailand is also working to get donations for a small library in the community center and for playground equipment in the garden area.

Meanwhile, throughout December, contractors worked to finish the technical work that was not part of the Carter project—including electrical outlet installation, ceilings, plumbing and tiling. Nearly 60 families have already moved into their new homes and the rest will make the move over the coming weeks.

Moving in has brought back memories from the build week for many homeowners, especially memories of volunteers. As new homeowner Aphiwat Gorkue told volunteers as the Carter project came to a close: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to change my life for the better. I have realized that wherever you are, we share the same love. And this is the greatest thing in the world.”


The 21 partner families in Cambodia moved into their new homes just one week after volunteers departed. On the morning of Nov. 28, families left Phnom Penh’s municipal dumpsite for their new homes in the city of Oudong. The families piled their possessions—and themselves—into a collection of trucks and motorcycles, and began the 45-kilomter ride out to their New Life Community.

Halfway there, the caravan stopped along the Tonle Sap River, one of several that connect to the Mekong in Cambodia, and everyone enjoyed a picnic in sight of Oudong Mountain. Men jumped in the river to cool off, children played games and women looked toward their new home as they passed around rice and chicken. “This is the very first time in my whole life I will have my own house on my own land,” said Eagk Srey Hak. “I never imagined this dream would happen.”

Upon arrival, each family signed a mortgage agreement with Habitat Cambodia. As a community they also signed a partnership agreement that details the care of common areas, such as the water tank and the community center.

The following day, the community celebrated with a party attended by new neighbors, village health officials and school principals, project donors and Habitat Cambodia staff. Australian couple Paul and Aileen Munn, who donated the land for the project, gave each family a housewarming gift of rice, blankets, cleaning materials and a mango tree. After speeches and dinner, the community danced until the wee hours of the morning in celebration of their new homes.

First-time homeowner Mr. Chhan Phy said he was still in awe of what was accomplished during the Carter Work Project. “I so admire all the volunteers’ hard work to help us,” he said. Like many community members, Phy is learning new skills to make a living in a new setting. He has already begun his business of selling gas to villagers and tourists who visit Oudong Mountain’s temples.


After the flurry of activity during the week of the Carter project, Vietnam’s Dong Xa village sounded much quieter with hundreds of volunteers gone. Yet partner families remain impressed with the progress that was made during the build week, especially since it enabled Habitat Vietnam to host a ceremony Dec. 18 to turn keys over to all 30 partner families. Each family is expected to move into its own home by the end of January.

Hanoi-based volunteers joined Habitat Vietnam’s construction staff to finish painting and touch-up work. Contractors completed the wiring, plumbing and tile work that weren’t part of the Carter Work Project week.

During a survey of households in Dong Xa village last summer, a number of families expressed an interest in water and sanitation improvements for their existing houses. Now that the work of the Carter Work Project week is accomplished, Habitat Vietnam is working with the community to determine the extent of need for water and sanitation improvements, as well as what kind of training and environmental impacts need to be considered.

Job training is another aspect of community development that Habitat Vietnam is carrying out in Dong Xa village, related first to the block-making enterprise that began with the blocks created for the Carter project. Here, the work of building hope, lives and dreams continues.


Both partner families and volunteers experienced withdrawal symptoms soon after volunteers returned to home soils. Back in Colorado Springs, Colorado, American crew leader Barry Rizk e-mailed Habitat China staff that he woke up at 4 a.m. and spent several hours uploading 400 shots of the Carter project build in Qionglai city, in southwestern China.

To his teammates and others whom he met, he wrote: “Thanks to all of you, you helped make this my best CWP yet.” Rizk, a policeman, previously volunteered during Carter projects in Georgia, in 2003, and in Michigan, in 2005.

In the month that has passed since the Carter project ended, many of the 170 volunteers may still shiver at the thought of the bone-chilling cold. Unlike most of the other build sites, sweltering heat was certainly not the problem in China. Smiles, however, come easily when remembering the excitement of seeing former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, during the fourth day of the build. And the progress that was made despite setbacks at week’s beginning.

Friendly local masons will not be forgotten, either. First-time volunteer Jan Lee said: “We got attached to them. They were so patient and explained everything over and over again.” Now, those masons are carrying on with the work started by volunteers who built walls to over three meters.

These walls marked the beginning of 16 six-story residential buildings being built under the Qionglai city government’s low-cost rental housing project. By the end of 2010, 402 families in need will have solid and affordable shelter.


Carter project volunteers in Laos focused on house repairs and toilet installation for 11 families living in existing homes. Family members and volunteers enjoyed immediate satisfaction in Laos, as all the work was completed before the end of the Carter project event week. All partner families are enjoying the improvement of their homes and health, thanks to Habitat staff, volunteers and partners.

That transformation is one that Habitat Laos hopes to replicate many times. Across the country, more than half the population lacks access to clean water, while nearly one-third of the people lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. Habitat’s presence in Laos is only three years old, but the Carter project has already demonstrated Habitat’s willingness to help where help is most sorely needed.

Phillip Jordan is a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus.

Reporting from Jennifer Lindsey, senior director International Communications, and from Habitat’s national programs in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Laos.