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Habitat for Humanity

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Habitat for Humanity

The

Mekong Build 2009

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China

The sign hanging above the intersection at Maejo University seemed even bigger than the 7-11 across the street.  Then there was the matter of the BIG green arrow pointing down the street toward Sansai. Sure, there was a welcome to Jimmy and Roselyn Carter, ex-president of the USA, and talk about Habitat for Humanity, but that arrow….  Having served my time in the military, I knew to line up and follow where I was told, so cleaning out a gaggle of blue and white flagged university students on their scooters, I swerved to the left in pursuit of the green arrow.  At last my life had some meaning and definition, “follow that arrow”.  Scraping my way down narrow streets, whenever my interest and confidence waned, sure enough there would be another arrow.  Finally, way out in the fields of nowhere, loomed some monster white tents, and hoards of people.  OK, the green arrow got me here, let’s take a look. Since I was going to town anyway, I had left the shorts, tee-shirt, and dreadlocks at home, so felt ready for anything.

 

First stage filtering was a brusque, “what do you want, why are you here”?  Huh? Following the green arrow didn’t seem to work, so I thought, why not be the roving correspondent for Northernthailand.com, famous media hub for northern Thailand news and information.  Presto, a Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity CORPORATE MEDIA badge was flung around my neck, a guide was dug up from around the water cooler, and off we went to explore the habitat.

This was unreal.  Way out in nowhere, they were building a little town of 82 houses.  82 is significant, because it is in honor of the Kings’ upcoming 82nd. birthday.  Previously there had been an orchard here, but it had been paved over, sewer, water, and underground power put in, and houses were now growing here instead of trees.  My guide from Singapore hastened to assure me that the fruit trees had not been cut down, but transplanted somewhere else.  The local government had donated the land, so maybe they were planted around the government office, I never did find out, but I felt reassured.

 

Figuring that a “CORPORATE MEDIA” correspondent would need some thought provoking questions, I had dashed out a few tough ones in the car before coming in.  As I was grinding through them, my guide in desperation informed me that there was a media meeting at 3 pm, a few minutes away and then dashed for a tent nearby.  Running after her, I ended up in a room full of media and pretty faces.  Hah, just my type of place, and I had the badge to prove it.  There was action film star Jet Li ready to make a few quick moves if things got out of hand, Cindy Burbridge Bishop former Miss Thailand and supermodel, Jacqueline Fernandez former Miss Sri Lanka and Bollywood star, John Abraham a Bollywood star voted the sexiest man in Asia, Carolyn Jane Smith one of Singapore’s most popular radio presenters, and other famous people who I did not know, but I didn’t see Jimmy Carter.  So I sidled up to the snack bar to feed my sorrow, but was shooed away with the counsel that it was for the pretty people not the unwashed media, so much for the perks.

After the media presentation, the stars needed some private time to unwind, probably around the snack bar, so the next best thing was to go see the houses being built.

 

Now this was impressive.  There were 3,000 people involved, swarming over the 82 houses, hod carriers, block throwers, cement pounders, cement mixers,  and media lookeloos, all making some pretty nice houses.  There were Koreans, Japanese, New Zealanders, Americans, Canadians, Thais, and other countries, and they were HAPPY people, doing something for someone else, making someone’s life a little better.

 

In talking with one lady, she said that it cost them around $3,000 apiece to come to Thailand and volunteer.  Yet some have gone to South Africa, South America, and other places.  Their commitment and dedication to helping others was restorative to this crusty old guy.  And then there was the lady from Bangkok who just wanted to follow Jet Li around, even if it meant building some houses.  Didn’t matter, houses were being built.

The way the houses were financed was through micro-loans arranged through private lenders.  My Singapore guide assured me it was not at the Thai rate of 3% per month. The houses are sold to the partner families at no profit. The families repay through affordable, no-profit, inflation adjusted mortgage loans.  Their payments go into a revolving fund to be used to build still more Habitat homes. Partner families invest hundreds of hours of their own labor “sweat equity” into building their habitat home, and the houses of others. You see them working on their future homes right alongside the volunteers. The prospective owners are selected based on their level of need, their ability to repay the loan and their willingness to work in partnership with Habitat. Costs are kept down because of all the donated volunteer labor, and donations of money and material.

The local Thai affiliates secure the building sites, organize the mortgage services, fundraising, donations of materials, and meld the volunteers with a few professionals so they can come out with a quality product.

You see a lot of money being thrown around to influence people and countries, but for my buck, I would say that for the people involved, from the local Thai families, the Thai volunteers, the foreign volunteers, the government and business people, all these people will come away with a healthy level of respect, gratitude, and feeling of being partners together.  Walls are broken down as people freely, happily give of themselves.  If we used more of these types of volunteers, they probably could close down the embassy and just refer to Habitat for Humanity as the new ambassadors.

 

I saw where the green arrow went, and I came away with a new level of positive energy and appreciation for people who go out of their comfort zone to do good things for people in need.

 

By SlimJim, roving CORPORATE MEDIA correspondent

 

CHIANG MAI


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