Since becoming Habitat for Humanity Vietnam’s home-partners, expectation has been building up and enthusiasm spreading from Tran Thi Ngoc Tinh, 31 to each of the other 3 family members. Even a simple and basic house was always a luxury that Tinh and her husband Le Van Chau, 43 had never been able to afford. Tinh can’t hide her excitiment every time she talks about the upcoming one-week build with the Mekong Big Builds’ volunteers.
Although the house is seriously deteriorated, Tinh and Chau couldn’t do anything more than repair with temporary materials, which in turn, further contributed to the home’s dilapidation.
Seven years ago, he couple began building the 32-square meter house with borrowed money on a plot inherited from Tinh’s mother. As it was made mostly of palm leaf, it can’t prevent rain from soaking into the walls and roof. “The house gets wet every time it rains. It makes the floor dirty and sticky”, says Tinh, “We rely on plastic sheets to cover the holes and lessen leaking”. However, this kind of material doesn’t last for long as it is easily blown off by wind or damaged by severe weather. “We intended to buy more thatch to roof the house, but the wooden column is too run down and we can’t do anything but leave it as is”, explains Tinh.
Tran Thi Ngoc Tinh (left) and her son Phan Tri Hien
There are a lot of mosquitoes in and around the house. The parents worry that their son Phan Tri Hien, 12, and thier 16-month-old daughter Le Ngoc Thuy Vy are at risk from contracting dengue fever, an infectious tropical disease caused by mosquitoes bites and potentially fatal especially among infants and children.
The family is fortunate to have tap water; still they are in need of a toilet of their own as they are still using the neighbor’s one.
Chau is the main provider in the family. He does whatever work he finds in construction, but it is unstable and unpredictable work especially in the rainy season. “It is hard to say how many days he works per month. If people are not building, my husband has no work” says Tinh. Chau’s health is not stable. He was recently diagnosed with liver disease from which he had unknowingly been suffering for a long time. He only finally decided to seek out medical opinion once his pupils turned yellow. Still, he keeps working even when sick as he cannot afford to loose income.
Tinh started to make rice wine at home 7 months ago, which she now sells, for an average US$ 1.4 per day. She also picks chili peppers to earn additional income whenever there is a demand for pickers.
The couple’s combined income is about US$ 120 per month. Tinh explains that the earning is unpredictable and sometimes not enough. Chau sometimes resorts to borrowing from his friends. He always pays back his debt as soon as he receives his pay.
Their meals are simple with cheap dried or fresh fish bought at the market when they have extra money; otherwise, Tinh gathers vegetables, which grow wildly around the house, to make soup.
Chau cannot afford modern medicine so he buys traditional treatments. Tinh contracted myocardium anemia when pregnant with Vy. She has not been having regular health checks as recommended because of the financial difficulties. “We want to go to the doctor, but if we go, we don’t have enough money for our children.” Therefore, when she feels tired, she buys medicine without consulting a doctor.
Depressed and worn down by sickness, Tinh and Chau have welcomed hope back to their lives in the shape of a new house. “When I found out that we were going to build a house with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, I couldn’t sleep because of the great news. My son is overjoyed too. He keeps asking me when the volunteers will come. He hopes the house has tiled floor so he can sleep on it which is cooler”.