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A warm welcome to Vietnam -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A warm welcome to Vietnam

By Shala Carlson

On Sunday afternoon in Hai Duong, Vietnam, Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project volunteers left behind a gray and unseasonably cool afternoon to enter the golden-walled ballroom of the main host hotel for the event’s opening ceremonies.

Madam Dang Thi Bich Lien, vice-chairperson of the People’s Committee of the Hai Duong Province, speaks to the crowd at the opening of the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Photo by Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein


As they entered the ballroom to the strains of Vietnamese music, the steady stream of people passed a painting named “Life by the River,” completed just two days before by renowned artist Van Duong Thanh. Thanh conceptualized the colorful painting based on this week’s Habitat build site and donated the work to be auctioned as part of the project.

Once inside, excited old friends greeted each other and new introductions were made. The lights dimmed, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s voice, narrating an opening slideshow, filled the room. Sara Coppler, Habitat Vietnam’s interim director for the past year, welcomed the crowd. In response to her question to the group—“Are we ready?”—a group of Habitat staff rushed from the rear of the room, toting beribboned tools and boisterously assuring Coppler they were ready.

Project leader Vic Fasolino recognized volunteer groups from 13 countries, including New Zealand, China, Vietnam and 28 American states. Emcee and former Habitat for Humanity International board member Diana Negroponte took the stage, introducing guest speakers and delivering important scheduling and site-safety information.

The program also included speeches from representatives of Habitat’s government partners in Vietnam. Madam Dan Thi Bich Lien, vice chairperson of the Peoples’ Committee, Hai Duong province, welcomed Habitat volunteers to her region, a “place full of love and hospitality.” Nguyen Van Kien, vice president of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations, spoke of the housing need in Dong Xa and of the week’s end products: “houses full of love.” Noting that International Volunteer Day is just around the corner in December, Kien called volunteerism “the highest expression of love.”

As the program drew to a close, volunteers found their house assignments and joined with their teams for several courses of local cuisine. With an early-morning call for breakfast and bus rides to the build site, participants dispersed early, eagerly anticipating Monday’s first glimpse of the neighborhood they will soon strengthen.

Shala Carlson is managing editor of Habitat World magazine.