1999: Learning lessons in the Philippines

New to Habitat for Humanity in 1999, Tan Poh Tin decided to volunteer during the Carter Work Project to learn how things were done. She went in with little confidence that a house could be built by anyone other than construction professionals. After a week, she was happy to be proven completely wrong.


“Anyone could learn to lay bricks, as long as the supervisors were strict about not allowing Leaning Towers of Pisa!” says Tan. “Anyone could mix sand and stone and cement, as long as you could shovel and didn’t mind the hot sun.” Likewise, anyone could help to paint and learn to install plumbing — all key lessons for a pediatrician who says she couldn’t hammer straight.

Tan’s personal sense of achievement as a builder grew, she says, after successfully installing plumbing for the first time, together with a fellow volunteer from Myanmar. They were so fast and neat that they were asked by other volunteers to help in neighboring houses.

That week, a total of 293 houses were built.

Tan’s path crossed with Habitat again in 2012. As a member of the organizing committee of the Malaysian Pediatric Association, which hosted the 14th Asia-Pacific Congress of Pediatrics, Tan suggested raising funds for the local Habitat to help commemorate the first time the event would be held in the East Malaysian city of Kuching. Her efforts raised a total of 29,000 ringgit (about US $9,400).

“The magic of Habitat is that a bunch of strangers could care enough to donate time, money and energy to build a decent home for a family they never knew,” Tan says. “One at a time, whole families gain hope and more.”