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Future Thai homeowners give hugs and a thumbs-up -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Future Thai homeowners give hugs and a thumbs-up

By Theresa Waldrop

Who needs language when you are building homes, hope and a future? In Thailand, future homeowners and volunteers from all over the world find that gestures and smiles work just fine.

Volunteer Ron Cully watches as Thai Habitat home partner Pathit Krisanawan, who sells fish at a market for a living, assembles roof tiles. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Andy Nelson


Sawat Bualoy, who will move into one of the 82 Habitat homes being built in Chiang Mai, Thailand, smiles while working on her home. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Gregg Pachkowski

“We’re all great at pointing and pantomime,” said Paula Van Law of St. Petersburg, Florida. “Communication can be a challenge, but we’re all trying very hard. And the effort is always worth it.”

Paula and her husband, Bill, are co-leaders of a team building a home with Sawat Bualoy—who goes by the nickname Deng—and her husband, Rungrote. The couple now lives with Sawat’s parents in a single-room apartment, and the four of them will share the new house.

Sawat and her father, See—who everyone on the build site calls Papa—are on the site every morning. “Even though I’m old, I want to show all the volunteers how much we appreciate the help,” said Papa. He is enthusiastic and expressive, flashing a grin and a thumbs-up whenever anyone attempts to speak Thai. Rungrote has been getting up at 4 a.m. this week to run his food cart, selling barbecue pork and sticky rice; he is on the build site in the afternoons.

When it comes to quality control, the homeowners are adept at communicating what needs to be corrected, volunteers from several houses said. “They will show us how to do it right,” said Maureen Fife of Tacoma, Washington, United States, who is building a house on one of the quieter corners of the build site with Katsama Jaroenman and his wife, Mayula.

A few houses up and across the street from the Bualoys’ house, a group of volunteers from Washington is building with Pathit Krisanawan and his wife, Gloy, who are eager to move from a slum on a filthy, stinking canal overrun with mosquitoes.

While Gloy stays home with their baby daughter, whom they have nicknamed Rosalynn in honor of Mrs. Carter, Pathit spends his days at the site. “We were able to connect using hand signals,” said Nancy Granger, a volunteer from Redmond, Washington. “We worked as a team,” without one necessarily taking a leading role, Granger said. “There was an understanding of what had to be done without talking.”

As the days go by, communication grows easier and the bonds grow stronger. On Monday, there was not much interaction between the Americans and Pathit, who was shy about speaking English, Granger said. On Tuesday, Pathit asked to have his photo taken with the volunteers. By the third day, “he put his arm around me,” Granger said.

At the end of the workday, Ron Cully of Spokane, Washington, was standing with Pathit inside the house, admiring the results of their hard work over the past few devilishly hot days. The block walls were up, and the trusses were in place, ready for the roof to be installed. “Pathit turned to me and said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Cully said. “I tried to explain that it was my gift to him. Then he looked at me and said, ‘I love you.’” No translation needed.

Theresa Waldrop is a writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International.