9 years ago, Alanna and her schoolmates had came and built a house together with Hoa’s family members in My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. 9 years later, she and her sister Megan were on the way back to the town in which she used to be so close with the family and the local neighborhood.
Today was a day I had been dreaming about for nine long years because I got to go back to the house our Habitat for Humanity team helped build in My Tho, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam. Meg and I took a bus from HCMC with Habitat Vietnam’s staff, Hong, a communication officer, alongside the trip as translator. Since the government officials, other habitat staff and the homeowner couldn’t speak any English we were really glad to have her with us. I also was able to get a new Habitat for Humanity Vietnam T-shirt through Hong.
After a couple hours driving south we arrived at a government office in My Tho, where a coordinator who worked with part of the DSBNi team (District School Board of Niagara’s International) during my build trip met us, along with two government officials who escorted us to the home.
Photo in 2010.
We walked only a few minutes from the government building down an unfamiliar street. Everything had developed so much in this area since I was here at last it was hard to recognize. I never would have found the home without them. The roads and walkways had been paved with cement where there use to be dirt and grass. Walking down the alleyway to the house, I saw where it use to be open with room to build had all been developed into more cement houses. When I finally saw the home I was overcome with emotion. Seeing the homeowner so happy in her home was incredible.
When we arrived she graciously put out chairs for us and told us to sit. She was so cute and looked so happy to see us, she is 68 years old now, with 3 sons and grandchildren who are around 20.
When my team finished working on her house nine years ago we presented her and her husband a photo we’d taken with her standing in front of the wall next to her house. She showed me she still had the faded photo in the gold frame and she pointed to me in the photo. In the new photo of her and I, the wall to the right is the same wall which the original picture was taken.
The homeowner told us that she use to sell lottery tickets but then had to stop when her husband got sick, so she could look after him. She also told us about her husband getting sick and that he had passed away three years ago. She asked if I was married and I said not yet, she was happy and said good don’t do it. She kept looking at Meg, and we soon realized why, as we were told she said Meg was pretty like a doll. She also told us to wear face masks to protect our skin from the sun here. I guess she was worried for our pale skin. She kept thanking me for coming back, and said to pass along the thank you to my other teammates and to my mom for letting me go!
Megan (on the left) and Alanna (on the right) joined with Hoa in the photo.
I showed her all the pictures I had on my phone from my time there and she asked if I still had the same phone from 9 years ago, the others had to explain how phone photo storage works. I showed her pictures of the children who I spent my time with there but she said she didn’t recognize them. Until I asked the translator, Hong, to ask her a specific little girl named Ellen. She corrected Hong’s pronunciation of the girls name and said she moved far away about 3km. I didn’t see any kids running around the houses like when I was there, all of the empty space between the houses has been developed and apparently there is a lot of new people living in this area.
When I last saw the home the walls weren’t complete, the floor was dirt and it had a makeshift tin roof. Now with fully constructed walls decorated with family pictures and a tiled floor, it was almost hard to recognize. Flowers hung in her doorway to celebrate the mid-year. I recognized the window shutters as the ones they made me pretend to sand for a picture. They are now painted blue along with the door. Inside she had a large wooden TV cabinet that displayed pictures of her family and Buddha. Next to the cabinet was a shrine with a fish tank on top that was lit up and with overflowing large goldfish. A poster size picture of her and her late husband, who passed away three years ago, hung next to a photo of her smiling at the beach. The room had a red and gold color scheme with a hammock hanging in the corner. A small opening in the wall led to her bedroom in the back, where she had her older dog tied up and a bird cage.
Next to the house was the empty factory building that we used to eat in everyday for lunch, the large building looked the same from what I could tell peering in the doorway. Today we saw it being used as a candy making facility.
We thanked her for letting us visit and gave her some cookies and dried fruit as a thank you gift. We wished we could’ve stayed longer to visit with her. I spent as long as I could there looking around the other areas where I used to play with the little kids. Some buildings were the same but the mud and grass areas were missing.
Some photos taken during the build in 2010: