Being There - Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2009 - Vietnam
First, thank you to everyone who supported, encouraged, or did without in my absence as I joined with other volunteers, a handful of professionals, and some hard-working homeowners to build homes in Dong Xa village near Ke Sat, around 40 miles from Hanoi, Vietnam.
This is not a complete report on the Carter Work Project. This is just me sharing some of the more compelling moments and a few of the photographs that represent for me the experience of the trip and the build and the time spent with some remarkable people.
This will give you an idea of where Dong Xa is located on the planet and the lot where we built House #8 with the Pham Van Chung family.
Construction had begun on all 32 homes before we arrived for a week of building. Here is where we started with House #8.
Fast-forward to the end of the week and here is House #8 with a completed exterior and the interior painted and finished up to the ‘rough’ stage.
This 397 square foot structure will become the home for a family of five. On the following photo, Chung is on the right and the wife of his #4 son and her three children are on the left. The other children are some of Chung’s nine grandchildren.
This Catholic Church is located on the river in the center of the village. During one of our many talks, Chung proudly told me that he and his family are Catholic. The Church and State do not get along so well in Vietnam, but you cannot tell from the people in this village.
It was in the churchyard where I first fell in love with the people of Dong Xa.
And there was one that I wanted to pack in my suitcase but only brought home in my camera (and in my heart).
Jimmy Carter gave a most compelling talk. He spoke of the fact that this was his first trip to Vietnam and how his oldest son had dropped out of Georgia Tech to serve with the US Army here. He spoke in plain terms about some of the differences in our countries.
Carter put forward the idea that if you were to ask an American what they considered to be their basic human rights, we would answer things such as “The right of free speech” or “Freedom of assembly”, or others. For the people of Vietnam it would be more basic human needs, including access to basic health care, housing, and food.
He went on to point out that basic human rights is still a problem in Vietnam. He was not rude but was direct and did not sugar coat the message which was delivered before all the home owners, volunteers, several Vietnam government officials, and about half the village hanging just outside the fence of the churchyard.
We later learned that during Carter’s talk one of the American house leaders, a veteran of the War in Vietnam, sat and held hands with a fellow volunteer who was from this area and served with the Viet Cong Army at the same time.
We learned that many of the homeowners were living on the same boats where they make their living. Gaining access to educational opportunities and education for their children and other basic needs is difficult, if not impossible, for people who are not tied to the land.
We went to build, but it happens sometimes that the memories you take away are of so much more. Like John (right) and Ethan standing on what John thought may have been a Viet Cong gun emplacement during the time he served there in the late 1960’s.
The people of this area work very hard. Constructing homes appears to be a community project in many cases.
For our construction project we worked with many talented construction professionals, most of whom were fellow volunteers. The build was well organized and went off without any major injuries.
And there were plenty of good people who came to work without bringing any particular skill… but tons of heart.
When it was all over we were treated to a celebration that included a traditional house blessing (by a lion) and a Vietnamese Tea. Chung was a gracious host.
So now I have a brother who lives in Vietnam. We are the same age. We are both fathers and grandfathers. The similarities end there as our lives on opposite sides of the planet are quite different.
He was a rice farmer who sold his field to help his children build homes to raise their families and find a life better than he had. For many that means working in factories for a little less than $200 per month, which is considered a very good wage here. It was a blessing for me to work with Chung on this home.
Too many impressions and memories to list, but here are a few: Russ with ExxonMobile who sponsored House #8 and brought his entire office out for a full day and returned for a second day (worked like a barn mule too). The dusty road and the smell of wood fires burning at night. Bearing witness to the incredible human spirit to survive and thrive and find happiness in the most unimaginable ways.
But of all the memories and all the impressions I take away from the 2009 Carter Work project in Vietnam, the children win the day…
For the official report on CWP 2009 and many more photos and videos - click here: http://www.habitat.org/jcwp/2009/