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Mekong memories -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Mekong memories

Last fall, teacher and Habitat World 2009 essay contest winner Kelli Akremi took a break from her fourth-grade classroom in Virginia to travel to Thailand for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Akremi shares her memories of a trip full of hard work and new friends.


“I have come to realize I am drawn back to Habitat projects again and again because of the people I meet while working on them,” says Akremi, left, pictured here working alongside fellow volunteer Diane Susoev. Photo by Gregg Pachkowski


“Tell me about your trip with Habitat for Humanity.”

Since returning from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Thailand, this has become a common greeting from friends and family. My first response might surprise you.

I could share how we constructed walls using interlocking cinderblock that resembled giant, gray LEGO bricks and then masterfully jiggled plastic funnels to get cement down between the layers of block. I could describe the hours of standing on high scaffolding as we labored to ensure that the green, ceramic roof tiles were precisely level and square. Or I could try to express the excitement we felt when we discovered how to make the perfect consistency for mortar. However, I usually don’t start there.

Instead, I begin telling about the amazing people I met on the build and the friendships I made: Sorapong, a new homeowner who proudly gave me a tour of his new home on the first day and described the artwork he would create to adorn soon-to-be-completed walls. W., another new homeowner, who worked harder than anyone on the site, always with a smile and compliment for a team member. Steve, a master brick mason who passed along construction tips and sage life advice, and Barbara, his wife of more than 50 years who was always looking out for us, anticipating when we needed water or a tool.

Lani, our incredible team leader, who gave us energy, inspiration and a pat on the back at just the right time. Diane, a fellow teammate who shared wonderful stories about her life and encouraged me to try my hand at everything, even if I didn’t know how. Jen, Bill, Shelley and the other members of an affiliate from Florida who “adopted” me after learning that I had journeyed to Chiang Mai on my own. And so many others that I have not mentioned but hold dear in my heart.

Months ago, I composed an essay about one of my fourth-grade students and his family’s struggles to find decent, affordable housing. I was first drawn to Habitat for Humanity because of the help it provides to families like my student. However, I have come to realize I am drawn back to Habitat projects again and again because of the people I meet while working on them.

Woodrow Wilson once said that friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together. Habitat for Humanity understands this idea, I believe. Although hours were spent laying cinderblock and pouring cement to construct strong walls, it was the friendships built between the homeowners and volunteers that truly hold together 82 new homes and a new community in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“Well, let me tell you about the build. First, there was Lani, our team leader …”