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Highlights from Vietnam -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Highlights from Vietnam

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Building and growing

At House No. 10 on the Dong Xa site, homeowner Cao Van Duong and volunteer Marlene Anderson engaged in a game of construction charades. Duong stood on scaffolding, helping a volunteer lift a roof panel into place as Anderson encouraged him to hoist it higher. “Up, up,” she said. “We’ll have to find out the Vietnamese word for ‘up.’”

Homeowner Cao Van Duong and volunteer Marlene Anderson are getting to know each other during the build. Anderson says she hopes to continue the friendship after she returns home.


Anderson has been on quite a few short-term missionary trips, but this is her first Habitat build. “I’ve bent nails in Africa to reuse because the ship didn’t come that was supposed to,” she said. “It’s nice on this build to have more modern things to work with.”

She came to Vietnam with friends Jean and Larry Eckland, whom she met when they all moved into the same development in McVeytown, Pennsylvania. The Ecklands are Peace Corps alumni, and this is their fifth Carter project build. “They are part of my church family. And now here,” Anderson said, gesturing toward Duong and her fellow builders, “my big family just keeps on growing.”

An affiliate gives back

This year’s Carter project in Vietnam enjoys a high level of support from U.S.-based affiliates. Greater New Orleans Habitat for Humanity, in particular, is here because of the extraordinary gifts it has received in the past few years.

“We felt like, given the international and national support we received, that we wanted to give back,” said Jim Pate, Habitat New Orleans executive director. “And there was a true sense that Southeast Asia had particular need.”

His affiliate chose to come to Vietnam, he said, because New Orleans is home to the first Vietnamese-American U.S. representative, Anh “Joseph” Cao. “Three of our neighborhoods are in his district,” Pate explained, “so it seemed like a good fit.”

“It also seemed like a place where we could really support Habitat’s international efforts and really get a lot of bang for our buck—our tithe not only funds this house, but houses for the next five years. I thought that was a pretty persuasive plan.”

Teachable moment

Volunteer Kathy Moran’s daughter wasn’t too sure she wanted Mom and Dad to go so far away. Kathy, born Lan Tran and raised in eastern New Orleans’ thriving Vietnamese community, really wanted this chance to see her parents’ homeland, but her 4-year-old needed a little convincing.

Kathy and husband Jamie, construction supervisor for the Biloxi-based Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Gulf Coast, showed her the pre-event photo slideshow,“Landing on Hope in Vietnam.” The slideshow features the story of young Dao Thi Huong and her future Habitat homeowner family.

The Morans’ daughter paid close attention. “And that’s when she changed her mind,” Kathy said. “She said, ‘Mom, you go build her a house.’”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hometown help

The Vietnam build site this week plays host to volunteers from 13 countries, but many of the workers are from Vietnam.

Hanoi resident Huong Nguyen Thi sands the wall surrounding the Dong Xa community center to prepare it for a fresh coat of paint. The Vietnam site has drawn many volunteers from within the country.


Habitat construction supervisor Hung Nguyen Thanh came up from Kien Giang province in southern Vietnam. In the past two years, he has worked closely with a lot of international volunteers. On Monday, he worked alongside Art Pearce, the executive director of Habitat’s Battle Creek, Michigan, affiliate, and a crew of Michiganites, whom he officially deemed “very good.”

One street over, at the Dong Xa community center, Huong Nguyen Thi sanded a wall that will be painted later this week. She came with about a dozen employees from Price Waterhouse Cooper Vietnam in Hanoi. A former nongovernmental organization worker with experience in water and sanitation projects here in Hai Duong province, Thi jumped at the opportunity to be here. “It’s such a good chance to help those who are in need,” she said.

A rosy outlook

Volunteers had been on the Dong Xa build site barely an hour Monday, but Carolyn Pink already looked like a pro. A first-time volunteer from Rotorua, New Zealand, Pink dug through a tool basket the color of her name, then quickly turned to chipping away mortar on the front wall.

Pink is part of a rather large Kiwi contingent at this year’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Nearly 100 volunteers have brought their energy and expertise to this year’s builds in Vietnam and Cambodia. It is the biggest Carter project showing by the New Zealanders.

Pink said she was enticed by an announcement at her Kiwanis meeting, part of the New Zealand affiliates’ concerted recruitment efforts. She made the decision to travel to Vietnam and tackle house-building rather quickly. “Otherwise, I would have wimped out,” she said, laughing. “I’m certainly out of my comfort zone. But it’s so exciting.”

She touched her heart with a cement-stained work glove. “You know, it’s just something in here. It’s really special.”

Friends and family

Longtime volunteer and former Habitat for Humanity International board member Diana Negroponte brought her youngest daughter, Sophia, to this year’s build. “I want all my kids to be happy builders,” she said.

Negroponte has built with Habitat for 20 years, from South America to Asia. In recent years, she has devoted much of her time to Opportunity International’s microfinance efforts, but lately she has become involved once again with Habitat builds. “It’s wonderful how the Lord leads you back,” she said.

On Monday, Negroponte worked with another longtime volunteer, Albuquerque’s Irv Hall, who is participating in his ninth Carter project. The two spread thick mortar on the back wall of their assigned Habitat house and shared how excited they were to be in Vietnam. “It’s so very different to be in a country and work with its citizens in their village and participate in their life, as compared to government life,” said Negroponte. “People-to-people interaction is the best way to show you care and to breed partnership.”
—Shala Carlson