Uyen (67 years old) has lived in a decaying house for over 50 years. It was beyond her imagination when she saw, with her own eyes, her dream house being constructed. However, she could never imagine that veteran builders, some of whom were veterans from the Vietnam war, would give their hands and heart to build her dream.
Veteran volunteers have come to Vietnam to build houses for the past 5 years with the first build in 2013. 135 volunteers have registered under the veterans’ program with the hope to devote their passion and energy to help the community. As a result of their efforts, 13 houses have been built across Vietnam. Every year, veterans alongside non-veterans, join hands to complete the mission. This year they were challenged with the construction of 4 houses within 9 days. This teamwork and dedication truly reflects the values of compassion and collaboration.
“For over 50 years, we have been living in a house that was decaying over time with the humid weather. A leaking roof and shaky walls always got on my nerves during the stormy season. I was always frightened because of flooding and rain coming through the roof. I wished I could have a sturdy chamber to reside against the passing storms”, shared Uyen, a mother of two. Throughout Uyen’s lifetime, she has never had the opportunity to welcome foreigners to her home, much less as “fairy” masons coming to build her home to turn her dream into reality.
“It is invaluable to know the family appreciates you there and we had wonderful moments creating something together. We are happy to offer ourselves to work with them, rather than come here to merely “help” them. Joining this build is an incredible experience”, said Elliot Knight, a team member.
Housing challenges for the families supported were insurmountable. Many of these families struggled on the poverty line with a monthly income lower than 8 million dong (around 345 USD). Their houses were often rotten because they were made with unsafe, temporary materials such as wooden frames and bamboo rafters along with lime mortar and temporary toilets or doors. Some families did not even have a toilet and were forced to practice open defecation.
“We worked together with a lot of smiles. I did not know another way to express my sincere thanks because my English is poor”, shared Men, a homeowner. Victor Romback continued: “One thing we all shared is the smile. And smiling is very contagious. It builds the atmosphere to be more meaningful and vivid. It marks good memories in our mind and so many meanings in our hearts.”
“They shine. You shine. We help each other to shine”, another team member added.
Smiles come a long way to bridge the gap of misunderstanding due to the War. With 5 veteran builds under his belt in Vietnam, Neal Pointer realized: “There is something here that still brings me back. Every time I get back the U.S. after the build, I learn a little bit about myself and also others. Every trip to Vietnam makes me believe it is true that we, veterans, did not want the war, they did not want the war. There was a political world that we did not ask for.”
Working on housing improvements is a tangible solution to address many low-income families’ problems. Through this very problem-solving spirit, volunteers and homeowners have the chance to get closer to each other to experience small acts which touch each other’s heart. The long term impact of this interaction can change minds and encourage each other to heal the enduring pain in life.
“I want to offer a piece of my life to Vietnamese people to help build houses. To do whatever I was asked to do, to show my appreciation for Vietnamese people’s strength and stamina. […] I had a great experience at one of the houses where I met three women whom probably at my age lost friends and cousins. They reached out to me and held my hands and told me to live a happy life instead of looking back to the sorrows in the past”, remembered James Lempke. “She told me like you are my brother, I am now like your older sister”.