One hundred and ninety international volunteers joined local ones in a moving display of true community spirit last week in Tien Giang Province.
Volunteering means hard work, never a cursory job, one of them said. And in reality they pushed to a higher limit through their hardworking attitude in the field.
Over four and a half days, starting from August 5, Habitat for Humanity’s volunteers, who included, students, professionals, retirees and an actor were bathed in sweat on the construction sites of houses in Hoa Dinh Commune, Cho Gao District. Each house is around 40 square meters in size, with a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a front corridor.
Volunteers from New Zealand, the US, Japan, China, the UK, Australia, Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam worked together to build 25 houses for vulnerable families during the Mekong Big Builds 2013, initiated and organized by Habitat for Humanity (HFH) Vietnam.
The volunteers covered all of the personal costs for their trip, including air tickets, hotels, food, and bus transport within Vietnam. They also donated money and contributed their own labor to build the 25 houses. On average, each volunteer paid from US$1,500 – 2,000 for the experience.
“I’ve never imagined anyone coming to help me without taking a single penny of salary and working in such a devoted manner,” said Le Thi Truc Ly, 29, one of the house owners. Ly, like the rest of the now home owners, built her house side by side the volunteers.
Each house is estimated to cost around VND50 million (US$2,400), with HFH financing VND40 million and local government partners and homeowners together contributing the remaining VND10 million.
Hard volunteer work
With beads of sweat rolling down his face under the scorching sunlight, Singaporean actor and model Paul Foster said, “[Here we put forth] a lot of effort, sweat, tears and blood, it’s good to come and help, to help build a home.”
He added, “Everyone is working hard, this is a good team. We’ve done a lot of work over five days”.
With a solid stature and strong build, Foster carried out heavy work such as carrying sand, gravel and cement; and mixing them for bricklayers. It’s not an exaggeration to say he worked relentlessly on the site. When he didn’t have work to do, he worked on scaffolding or tidying up the construction site.
Ms. Joan Hutchinson, an American woman in her 60s, talked about her motivation in volunteering with HFH: “It’s a lot of work, but I am very satisfied. A lot of fun too. We find out what we are capable of and we learn new skills. I had never laid bricks before and had never built walls.
“I think Americans have interesting motivation towards Vietnam. We heard that Vietnam was a place of war when we were children. We wanted to come to do something peaceful. And also we want an adventure.”
Melodie Lee, 22, from Singapore, while mixing cement said, “We are building a house, which is meaningful. We are here to build a home for this family.”
Ngatuakana Wichman, an 81 year-old woman from New Zealand, was the oldest volunteer on the team. She was a constant source of surprise to her team members with her devotion and strength for the work. She painted, worked on scaffolding, mixed materials, and laid bricks.
Volunteers mix construction materials in front of the house they are building (Photo: Minh Phát)
All of the houses were built under the supervision of Habitat construction experts, which includes construction engineers.
Jacqui Bell, an Engineers Without Borders Volunteer and Sustainable Construction and Materials Advisor for Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, told Tuoi Tre, “Habitat for Humanity Vietnam’s staff includes construction quality managers. The whole construction team works to make sure we meet both Vietnamese construction standards and those of Habitat for Humanity International.”
HFH International is a worldwide organization sending volunteers to other Southeast Asian nations and other parts of the world. Each year, it mobilizes thousands of volunteers, according to Ms. Kelly Koch, country director of HFH Vietnam.
Both house owners and volunteers had tears in their eyes during the ceremony to hand over the houses. The owners were moved to tears of gratitude. So were the volunteers, including 32 university students from Japan, who made some meaningful friendships with youth in the community. Friendships, which transcended words and overcame language barriers.
They all reported having a wonderful experience, receiving more than what they gave away.
Foster said, “The home owners said thank you to us, and we also want to say thank you to them. We are grateful they welcomed us into their life. An amazing experience.”
Volunteers are building the wall of a house in Cho Gao District (Photo: Minh Phát)