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Amid pomp and confetti, lives are changed -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Amid pomp and confetti, lives are changed

By Teresa K. Weaver

Day 5 on the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project was full of emotion and frenetic activity as volunteers hurried to do as much construction work as possible amid photo opportunities with President and Mrs. Carter and dedications at each of the 82 houses in Chang Mai, Thailand.
At an hour-long closing ceremony featuring flashy Thai dancers and up-tempo music, new homeowner Aphiwat Gorkue spoke for all the partner families in thanking the Carters and 2,000 volunteers for their extraordinary efforts during the week.

Wanida Sotkrang begins crying as she gives vows and thanks during a special dedication ceremony involving the volunteer team that helped build her new Habitat house during the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Habitat for Humanity/Andy Nelson


“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to change my life for the better,” Aphiwat said through a translator. “I have realized that wherever you are, we share the same love. And this is the greatest thing in the world.”

All of the partner families at the ceremony stood and gave the volunteers an 82-popgun salute of confetti, delighting the audience with a shower of colorful paper curls.

Friday was family day on the Carter project build site, as many of the homeowners brought their children to see their new houses for the first time. Five-year-old Kow and 3-year-old Ky were dressed in their holiday best—little black traditional hill tribe suits hand-sewn by their mother, new homeowner Sunisa Sae-tow. “They love the house,” Sunisa said through a translator. “As soon as we got here today, they started asking, ‘Where is House 30? That is our house.’”

After all 82 families took photos with President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, most of the children were taken across the street from the build site to the neighborhood temple. Under the watchful eye of volunteers, the children played in the shady temple yard while their parents kept working on their houses until the last possible moment.

Shortly before the closing ceremony, all construction work ceased and each crew held a dedication with their partner family. Some crews gathered in circles and prayed; others accepted gifts from grateful homeowners. At House No. 17, Nopphadol Wisithrawong, an artist by trade, presented everyone on his crew an original painting of an elephant. At several houses, homeowners gave crew members red or white roses.

At House No. 4, Doungkamol Sawanglap told volunteers that she lived in a slum and never thought she could own her own house. She broke down in tears and hugged Linda Morgan from Waterloo, Iowa, United States. Her translator broke down as he struggled to tell the volunteers what she had said: “I feel as though I’ve been born again with this house.”
At the closing ceremony, former President Carter paid tribute to the other four countries that participated in this year’s build: Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam. In total, about 3,000 volunteers provided housing solutions for 166 people.

“All of you can be proud of what you’ve done,” Carter told the volunteers. “How many of you plan to work with Habitat in the future?”

Nearly every hand in the crowd went up, which might have pleased an ordinary man. “Those of you who didn’t raise your hands,” he said, “can leave before supper!”

Kidding aside, Carter announced that the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project will take place the first weekend in October.

“We look forward to seeing you there,” Carter said.

Teresa K. Weaver is a senior writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International.