Habitat for Humanity Vietnam is about people. It’s about changing lives—about facing the fact of poverty and believing we can make a difference.
For the people employed at Habitat Vietnam, for those who volunteer, those who donate and those whose lives are changed—this work is personal—profoundly personal. It’s about more than building houses; it’s about building homes, about building hope. It’s about giving space a face.
Yet the face of poverty housing in Vietnam is being changed by the efforts of folks like Le Cao Minh (Deputy National Director for Habitat Vietnam), who is visiting America during February, sharing with those of us in the US, not only the needs Habitat faces in Vietnam, but also, and more importantly, about the people who make change possible. According to Minh, the challenges faced by Habitat in Vietnam are less about grants and funding than they are about capitalizing on human potential—less about money and more about people—about the human capacity to care and share, to build a better tomorrow from the will and determination of people today. Minh insists that with the right people, anything is possible—that with the right people funding will come, that with the right people poverty housing can be eliminated. According to Minh, it’s more about face than it is space—more about people than place—more about human resources than financial capital.
But if Habitat Vietnam is about giving space a face, then who are the faces that represent this place in Southeast Asia, who are the people behind the change, who are the people who energize the mission?
Habitat for Humanity began its work in Vietnam in 2001, and in the past ten years has served more than 8,400 families—so, perhaps, the most important faces of Habitat in Vietnam are those whose lives have been improved. Habitat Resource Centers operate in four locations across the country, from Kien Giang and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, to Quang Nam (near Da Nang) in the center of the country and Hanoi in the far north—
—So families’ lives are better over a vast geographical area, made that way by projects that have:
- built new homes,
- renovated existing ones,
- provided clean water and sanitation,
- offered livelihood training through its partners,
- set up micro-finance partnerships,
- responded to disasters such as Typhoon Ketsana and
- taught disaster mitigation to local communities.
Whether it’s a mother from Da Nang, who now has a cement floor in her home and can for the first time run a small sewing business or a grandfather from Ke Sat, who can now provide his ailing wife with clean water and a toilet—young and old alike benefit from the mission.
And although the faces of Habitat in Vietnam are also those of 48 paid staff, (all but three of whom are Vietnamese nationals) and the faces of corporate and government partners, your face can also make a difference. And even if you can’t donate financially, you may be able to shop at Habitat ReStores in North America or volunteer your time and labor.
More specifically, Habitat in Vietnam offers international volunteers the opportunity to spend two weeks in the country helping to build houses. Last year Habitat hosted 25 “Global Village” teams to build 50 houses for families in need. The members of these teams, most of whom have no previous construction experience, not only radically change the lives of the specific family they serve, but they themselves are also changed forever. (An up-coming trip lasting 16 days cost a mere $1,650 US dollars per person, including meals and hotel, excluding airfare.)
When my partner Sara and I lived in Vietnam, I, myself, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, participating in the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project near Hanoi. And during that volunteer project lives were, indeed, changed.
For example, the most touching moment of the week was when President Carter addressed the crowd in our Ke Sat Village church yard. While the president was talking about his visit being a healing opportunity for our two countries, two veterans of the war (which ended just before Carter’s presidency began) sat side by side in the audience, one American, the other a former member of the North Vietnamese army. As the president spoke of healing and the mending of broken relationships, the two veterans, former enemies, clasped one another’s hands, weeping through the rest of the ceremony—the face of friendship, peace, and mutual respect.
This is, indeed, the face of Habitat for Humanity’s work in Vietnam—the face of reconciliation and the ability of decent, affordable housing to facilitate partnerships, ones that improve the lives of poor and not-so-poor alike, ones that unite rather than divide—that denounce war and celebrate peace.
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