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Here comes the sun -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Here comes the sun

By Theresa Waldrop

As 60 buses, one after another, began unloading volunteers at the build site at about 7 a.m., the sun was only hinting at what it could do. But more than a few people were already wiping their brows as house leaders greeted their teams and held the first house meetings.

Rhonda and Scott Burnett, volunteers from Kansas City, Missouri, take a moment to apply sun block as the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project got underway in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Gregg Pachkowski


Only a few hours later, the heat turned out to be an equal-opportunity disabler. Volunteers of all ages and nationalities—from the United States to the United Arab Emirates—sought out the first-aid tent to be treated for heat-related ailments. A few people were sent back to their hotels, and a Thai translator fainted. By 3 p.m., Dr. Jack Geeslin and his crew of medics and nurses had treated about 150 people.

The hardiest souls remained undaunted even as the temperature climbed well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius.)

“This is nothing,” said Bob Meyer of Valrico, Florida, the leader of House No. 82. Meyer is a veteran who has built in the heat of Louisiana, California and New Mexico, to name just a few places.

“It’s hot, but it’s fun!” said Corinth Milikin, a volunteer from Dacula, Georgia, who is here for her third Carter Work Project.

Several first-time builders also refused to be put off by the heat. “We thought it would be worse,” said Katie Freer, who is here with her sisters, Jennifer and Lauren, from northern Virginia.

At about 3 p.m., sedate traditional Thai music was replaced by a Rolling Stones tune on the loudspeakers, an auditory pick-me-up that was greeted with more than one enthusiastic “Yeah!”

The construction method itself posed a few challenges. Many of the volunteers have construction experience, but building with interlocking concrete blocks is a new for everyone. The blocks are a “playing-field leveler,” several house and block leaders said. “With this, everybody’s starting off at zero,” said Jack Evans, a block leader from Decatur, Georgia.

Kanchana Nimpisuth, the future homeowner of House No. 5, was on site, making sure everything was done right. “She made us replace a couple of bricks,” said Keri Luly from Muscatine, Iowa. Kanchana “spoke enough English to say, ‘It’s beautiful,’ when we made the changes she wanted.”

Maybe it was the home-team advantage—the house has lots of Thai volunteers—or maybe it was the shade provided by nearby lychee and teak trees, but the team on Kanchana’s house had added three rows of bricks in some places by 8:30 a.m., and the workers were helping volunteers on neighboring houses with the finer points of laying the bricks.

“They’re rockin’ and rollin’,” Brittany Lothe, a volunteer from Chicago, Illinois, said of her house-building mates.

By quitting time at 4:30 p.m., the volunteers had made headway on all 82 houses and were gratefully making their way back to air-conditioned buses.

They are ready and willing to come back and do it all again tomorrow.

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