2009: A community grows in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Sae-Uwa family used to live in a one-bedroom building at a local mosque where Phairat was the caretaker. Space was tight, privacy was scarce, and the heat made it difficult for the family to sleep well.

To supplement their income, Phairat and his wife Saengjan offered soybean milk and donuts for sale at a roadside stall outside the mosque. Of his 19-hour work days, Phairat said at the time: “I do it for my son and my wife.”

In 2009, Phairat did something else for his son and his wife. He partnered with Habitat Thailand to become a homeowner during the Carter Work Project.

In the past, the Sae-Uwa family felt very much on their own. Now, they look to their neighbors for help. “I can,” Phairat says, “entrust my family to the community.”

That community is characterized by unity. There are several home-based businesses ranging from grocery shops to tailoring and shoe repair. Residents willingly come together to solve problems. For example, they help to clean and maintain the water tank that provides filtered water. The 82 Habitat families use the multi-purpose hall where Saengjan studied for everything from exercise and traditional dancing to the loan of library books. Children, including Phairat’s 4-year-old son Rusdee, attend a school just a short distance away.

Soon after moving into their Habitat house, Phairat became the assistant cook at a local Japanese restaurant; today, he is the proud owner of a Japanese food stall in a night bazaar in Chiang Mai.

Yearning for higher education, Saengjan began to attend lessons at the Habitat community’s multi-purpose hall. She went on to complete her high school education in 2012. Her love of learning can be seen in the name she gave to the daughter born in the years since the Carter Work Project build. Two-year-old Rosida’s name means “the learned one.”

ALSO IN 2009: During the weeklong build, volunteers built with nearly 166 families in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and China’s Sichuan Province.


Reader Submission: “An unforgettable experience”

Several years ago, my husband and I — ages 69 and 71 — spent a week with the Carter build in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our skills were rudimentary at best. We stacked the bricks on the rebar, poured the cement mix into the openings and grouted the cracks between the bricks.

I was grouting with the future homeowner, who spoke no English; I spoke no Thai. We communicated with gestures and smiles.

My most vivid memory of the week was when her water was hooked up. The look on her face when the water flowed over her hands is etched in my brain. Her smile of wonder and awe was beatific! Thanks for the unforgettable experience.

Mary McEnery