Put your name on a house.
"This house in memory of Duffy"
February - May 2018
We originally planned to build five houses on this trip. Then, with about a month left we were asked by the district government to replace a house that had collapsed, and shortly after that another house that had burned. Because it was near the end of our trip and we had spent or committed most of our money, we asked the town and district governments if they would help us, and they agreed. We bought all the construction material and they paid for the labor. The one that burned down was made of natural materials like most of the houses we replace. The residents were a 43-year-old mom and a 17-year-old daughter. They lost everything, including four pomelo trees and three coconut trees that provided them a bit of income from selling the fruit. Neighbors gave them a used bed, a blanket, a small amount of cash, and a few pieces of roofing material that they put up as temporary shelter, and the town’s Peoples Committee gave them 10kg of rice.
Here’s the one that collapsed. Husband, 44 is not able to work. Wife, 38, gets a little work around the neighborhood. Their 16 year old daughter is in high school. When we were introduced to them they were living in a temporary house made from remnants of the old house and roofing material donated by the community.
Phuong, right, talks to town officials on the floor of the collapsed house
New house, temporary house at back
We found this one last year but had already committed all of our money, so we promised it for this year. Parents in their thirties, a ten year old boy in grade 4 and a seven year old boy in grade 1. The dad works construction in Saigon and comes home for the weekends.
Phuong speaks to homeowner in front of old house
Back of old house
Homeowner receiving house documents
The sign is unveiled
This one is for two sisters in their seventies, who do not have children to support them.
Walking to the new house
Receiving house documents; check out that smile!
December 2016/March 2017
We built nine houses, with an average cost of $1,620 per house, an increase of 6.6% from last year. Building supply prices have remained stable but labor has gone up. One house was an emergency due to fire and we were able to start construction within a few days.
Here is one story.
Not much of a house. One wall built of natural material and the rest of it put together with tarps.
Mom and dad both age 49, son age 12. They recently moved back to the countryside from Saigon. The dad has one leg amputated just below the knee, because of uncontrolled infection following small on-the-job accident. The mom is overweight and has disabling knee pain. It’s difficult for her to go to market for food or do regular household activities. The boy started grade 6 but stopped school when they moved. Town officials were there and we asked about getting the boy back in school. Short story - they had every reason that the boy couldn't go back to school now - bureaucratic reasons, money reasons, family reasons. After long discussion with the family and town officials the mom turned to the boy and asked him if he wanted to go back to school. Yes! Tender smiles from each of them. It was a beautiful moment. The reasons finally disappeared and the town officials promised to get him back in school within the week. The boy’s uncle and aunt followed us to our town on motorbike where we bought notebooks, textbooks and a bicycle. The district government chipped in as well with two sets of school clothes.
When we left we waved goodbye and got the BIGGEST SMILE EVER from the boy. Major feel good project.
Here’s another story.
In early December we were referred by one of our regular helpers to a family that did not have adequate housing and we went out with her and a couple of town officials to take a look. Dad, mom, 15-year-old daughter in grade 10 - average student. The mom was sick with cancer but was at home. The daughter lived with someone else near her school because their house is very remote and the last couple hundred yards of trail are very difficult, even walking. Much of it is covered with fallen palm fronds for support but we still sank ankle deep in mud in a few places. Getting construction materials to the site was difficult - it was delivered in small batches by boat on the canals near the house.
Sadly, the mom passed away during construction of the house.
When we completed and delivered the house, the daughter moved back in with her dad even though getting to school and back is difficult. He fishes in the canals for small fish and shrimp for food and to sell for income. His boat was not usable anymore and this limited his fishing.
We asked if anyone knew of a boat for sale and one of the town officials who was there did. After lunch we checked out the boat and bought it for $124, and it was delivered in the afternoon. He thanked us, holding back tears, when we told him we would buy him a new boat.
Because of the remote location, the house has no electricity. At our request, the town government arranged to have an electricity line run out to the house. We also arranged for them to get 15 kg of rice per month for a year.
December 2015/March 2016
We built 10 houses, with an average cost of $1,520 per house. They’re small – 2 rooms, 344 square feet – but always a big improvement over what we replaced. Foundation and floor are concrete, walls are brick, roof is fiberglass panels. Windows have metal grills but no glass. Materials saved from the old house are usually used to add a kitchen or bedroom to the new house. Here is one story.
Nguyen Thi Kien, 46, lives with her 12 year old daughter. Their house, like most we replace, was made of natural materials, was tiny – only one room – and did not keep the weather out. The two of them slept on an old chaise lounge chair. Unusually, they did not have electricity. Kien collects recyclable trash – paper, plastic, cans – for a living. They barely get by. She seemed hopeless when we met her, with no opportunity to improve her life.
A local official said he would arrange for electricity to be connected and we gave her a coir spinning machine so she could earn more income.
Some of the other houses we replaced
Some of our other house recipients
November 2014/February 2015
We built eight houses and put a concrete floor in one house. Here’s one story.
We first met this family when their 22 month old daughter was introduced to us. She had been diagnosed with heart disease but the family had no money for treatment. We arranged for a free exam at University Hospital in Saigon and gave the family money for bus fare and food and drink.
Phuong presents the deed to the new homeowners.
The town government brings housewarming gifts.
Later than morning we went to see their house and it was just what we look for – inadequate shelter, family trying to make ends meet with little opportunity. On a very happy note, it turned out that their daughter had been misdiagnosed and did not have heart disease.
November 2013/February 2014
We built eleven houses on this trip. We look for houses that are structurally unsound and for people that are trying to have a better life but are too poor to save enough money to repair or rebuild their house.
We got off to a good start with Nguyen Thi Thuy, a 37 year old single mom with a nine year old son in grade four. Thuy lost a hand seven years ago in an accident in a sugar cane factory. She now makes a living selling lottery tickets, usually earning two or three dollars a day, sometimes less. When we went to her house to check out her situation the front of the house looked okay, but when we stepped inside it was a different story. There were holes in the roof and parts of the outside walls were missing. We agreed to build a new house for her, ordered material and hired a builder, and construction was started on the next auspicious day. As with all house building there, before construction began a small altar was set up to ask for the blessing of the local diety.
While chatting with some local officials we found that a house had burned down in a nearby town the previous day. We went there immediately and found that the house had been completely destroyed and the family had lost everything. We met the family and town officials and agreed to help them rebuild. The town and district governments also chipped in to help this family.
Toward the end of our trip, after we had spent or committed all of our money, an elementary school principal told us about a family in dire circumstances and asked if we could help. We explained that we had used all our money for this trip but went out with her to take a look. We found four children, ages three to ten, cared for by their grandmother, who is chronically weak from hepatitis C. The house that the kids lived in had just fallen apart, all that was left was an old bed frame and a few sticks, and they had moved in to their grandparents’ house. The four of them slept on the floor in one room, sharing a blanket. The kids’ mom was in Saigon with a new baby, working, and sending home $10 – $15 dollars a month. Other income came from the grandfather’s pension, $100 per month, and was used to support six people. They didn't have enough money for their most basic necessities - food and clothes for the kids, medicine for the grandparents - and the grandmother was planning to give the nine year old girl to distant relatives to care for when one of the boys, 10 years old, said to her "Please don't give my sister away. Don't worry grandma, in four years I will get a job."
The situation was urgent, so we asked the Board of Directors for additional money so we could build a house immediately, rather than waiting for next year. Because of the size of the family we built this house bigger than usual. We usually build a two room house, four by eight meters. This time we built four by eleven meters with three rooms - a living room, a bedroom for the grandmother and the two girls, age three and nine, and a bedroom for the two boys, ten year old twins.
We told several business people in our town about this, and they stepped right up with gifts of clothes, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and blankets. Watching the nine year old girl try on her new clothes was one of the highlights of the trip. We also asked a district government official to come out with us, and after she had a chance to assess the situation we asked her directly to help with the cost. Unusually, she immediately agreed to give us $475 (10 million Viet Nam dong) and we used this to pay the labor. Our part of the cost for this house was $1,525, and we also arranged for 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of rice to be delivered to this family every month. We will check on them next year to see how they are doing.
Our average cost per house: $1,416, up about 2% from last year.
November 2012/February 2013
We planned to build seven houses on this trip, but because of a special contribution just before we left and because we committed some of our discretionary money to building houses, we were able to build ten, and to repair one. Our standard house, known as a Compassion House in Vietnam, is four meters by eight meters (344 square feet), two rooms and a porch, brick walls, fiberglass panel roof, concrete or tile floor. Often, material from the old house, such as old boards, wall or roof panels made from water coconut fronds, and bamboo or wood posts and beams, is used to add a kitchen or additional room to the new house.
The Le Thi Ut family was one of our recipients. The dad, 46, has work in Saigon and is away most of the time. The mom, 37, does whatever casual work is available locally and takes care of the two kids, an eight year old girl and a six year old boy, both in school. This family was introduced to us by the Womens Union representative in the town of Tan Phu Tay. We liked the family as soon as we met them and they fit our guidelines perfectly: very poor, trying hard to improve their circumstances but not much opportunity to get ahead, and the house was in very poor condition, with half the roof gone (see the before and after photos).
Labor cost was the same as last year, $288 per house, and materials were up a little. Labor on one of the houses was donated.
Our average cost per house: $1,390, up 5.5% from last year.
We met the Nguyen Thanh An family again while we were distributing notebooks at the elementary school in their town. This is the family of six for whom we built a house two years ago (see Nov. 2010 report under Project reports, houses, for details about this family). Two of the younger girls are now in school, Tien, now 17, is still in school after missing a few years to take care of the babies, and the family is doing well enough to have made some improvements to the house we built.
December 2011/February 2012
We planned to build eight houses on this trip, but because of a special contribution just before we left and because we committed some of our discretionary money to building houses, we were able to build eleven.
We find house recipients in several ways: personal observation, referrals from friends and relatives who know what we’re looking for, referrals from our regular volunteer helpers, from Women’s Union representatives, from the town Peoples Committee, and from the district office to help poor and sick people. Now that we’ve been at it for a while and our work is known locally it is not unusual for someone to come to our house and ask us directly to build a house for them. In all cases, we ask the town Peoples Committee for a report on the family and we visit the family to check out their house and circumstances before we commit.
We look for houses that don’t keep the weather out and look like they may not last another year or two of storms, and we look for families that are trying hard to improve their circumstances but don’t have much opportunity to get ahead. With these guidelines, we see some very distressful living conditions. This time even we were surprised. While looking at a house to see about repairing the roof, we noticed a little lean to attached to the back of it. On inquiry, we found that three people, husband, wife and daughter, were living in it. It was about seven by twelve feet and not high enough to stand up in. We immediately offered to build them a house and a relative offered land nearby in a sugar cane field. When we went to check on the land documents the next day we found they were almost finished clearing a spot for the house, and we started construction as soon as we were able to line up a builder.
Labor and material cost are up about 25% from last year.
Our average cost per house: $1,317
We stopped by to visit the Nguyen Thanh An family. This is the family of six for whom we built a house last year (see last year’s report under Houses for details about this family). Having a new house seems to have energized the whole family. We gave them a coir spinning machine last year as well and the additional income from this has greatly improved the economy of the family and has allowed the mom to stay at home rather than go out for whatever casual labor is available. This has allowed Tien, now 16, to go back to school after quitting for several years to take care of her three younger sisters. It is very unusual for a student to go back to school after quitting because it is uncomfortable to be older than the classmates by several years, so we were particularly pleased to hear this news.
November 2010/February 2011
We had planned to build four houses on this trip, but after we had spent or committed all of our money, Phuong found two more families in desperate need of adequate shelter, so we asked the board of directors to send us enough money to build the two additional houses.
We've made a few design changes this year. One of the families is a family of six and we realized that our standard 4 x 8 meter (345 square feet) house just wasn't big enough, so we built our first larger house – 4 x 12 meters (517 square feet). We are also using new roofing material. We've changed from corrugated metal to fiberglass panels. The fiberglass is a little more expensive, and because it is heavier we need a few additional roof beams, so it increases our cost per house by about thirty dollars. However, we expect this roof to be good for 20 – 30 years, while the metal roofs need replacement in less than 10 years.
The family of six is a dad and mom, 37 and 35, and four girls ages 15, 6, 4 and 2. Tien, the 15 year old, quit school a couple of years ago to care for her younger sisters so her mom could work. The dad does small deliveries by motorbike, and the mom does whatever work becomes available. Because they already had some building supplies, and because all of them helped with the labor (even the two year old carried a couple of bricks), our cost was only a little more than our standard house even though it is 50% larger.
One of the houses was for our long time rice dealer, Thanh. She, her husband and six and eight year old boys had been living in a house of about 100 square feet and which doubled as her store. The boys were literally jumping with joy when they learned about the new house.
Another house was for a 41 year old single mom, Thuy, and her eight year old daughter, Luyen Ai. Their old house consisted of posts and a leaky roof – no walls.
Our average cost per house: $1,038.
Phuong handing the deed to the new homeowner
We built four houses on this trip and repaired one. We had originally planned to build three houses, but while visiting a family to see about giving them a cow, we found that their living conditions were not safe. The house only had three walls, and the mom and one year old baby were staying with relatives because the floor was under about six inches of water due to high tides, a regular occurrence on the full and new moons. We offered the dad a house instead of a cow and he accepted. This house cost about $100 more than usual as we had to bring in dirt to raise the floor level to avoid the tidal flooding.
We also bought a blanket, mosquito net and reed sleeping mat for each family. The Peoples Committees and neighbors also brought gifts like tea sets, thermos, and small amounts of money to the dedication of each house.
Our average cost for each 32 square meter house was $1012.50 and we spent $97 for a roof repair.Our total cost: $4,147.
We have increased the amount we pay our contractors to $200 per house, but because the cost of building supplies has finally started to come down, our cost per house is now $889, almost $200 less than last September. We included gifts of a mosquito net, a blanket and a set of bowls with each house.
We built four houses on this trip, three in Nhuan Phu Tan and one in Thanh Tan. The Peoples Committee in Thanh Tan has been asking us to build compassion houses in their town for several years, but we have declined because it is far from our home base, making it difficult for our construction manager (Phuong’s brother) to supervise construction. We finally agreed to check out one family that they said was living under particularly difficult circumstances, and after meeting them and seeing their house, we couldn’t walk away.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy is a woman in her late thirties with three children. She suffered much physical abuse while living with her husband in Saigon, and finally left with her two youngest kids to go back to her homeland in the countryside. Her “leaf house,” was built on a tiny plot of land lent to her by an aunt. The only reason the house was standing was that it was leaning against a coconut tree on one side and tied to another tree on the other side.. When we agreed to build a new house for her, her mom gave her some land at a nicer location near the river.
A similar house built by the Vietnam Project.
The dedication of the house was particularly moving. In addition to the Peoples Committee, many of her new neighbors showed up to help prepare the food and to offer gifts – a teapot, a thermos, plastic chairs and small amounts of money. Many tears were shed as Thuy was overcome with happiness at the friendship and generosity of her new neighbors and the prospect of a better life for her children in their new house.
The cost of building supplies, many of which are heavy and need to be transported, has continued to rise, and, we have improved the roofing material that we use. We have also increased the amount we pay our contractors to $180 per house. The average cost per house in now $1,080. Because of the urgent need for rice, and because we can get so much “bang for our buck” with the coir spinning machines, we only built five houses this time. We built one in Long Thoi, which we had promised on the last trip, one in Tan Phu Tay and three in Phuoc My Trung.
Thirty two year old Huynh Van Chinh and his wife Nguyen Thi Sach have one child, a ten year old boy who is in school. Like most of our recipients, they have little land and no regular work. Their house was in extremely poor condition and looked like it would not make it through another rainy season. This house was the last one we built on this trip and because of bad weather it was not finished when we left. It has now been completed.
Chinh original home - note the papaya tree
New Chinh home
December 2007/January 2008
Even thought the cost of building supplies continues to go up and we have increased the amount we pay our contractors to $125 per house, we were able to build eight houses, two in Tan Thanh Tay, two in Phu Son, two in Thanh Ngai, one in Tan Phu Tay and one in Hoa Loc, all in Ben Tre province in the Mekong Delta.
Welcome home Tam, Hung Cu, and their daughter
Tan Thanh Tay is a new town for us, and we turned down the first two suggestions of the Peoples Committee. After giving them a clearer understanding of what we were looking for, we were introduced to two families that met our guidelines and we built houses for both of them.
Tam, 38 and Hong Cu, 39 have a two year old daughter. They have very little in the way of material goods and barely make a living tending their neighbor’s orange tree saplings. They were very pleased with their new house.
Roi's old house
Roi is a 30 year old single mom with a four year old son. Their house was one of the worst we’ve seen, with many openings in the roof and walls, giving them very little protection from the rain. Roi does garden work for about $1.25 to $2.00 per day when available. She often takes her son to work with her, sometimes her neighbors watch him. Their new house gives them a safe and dry place to live and sleep.
House under construction.
We built ten houses for families with inadequate housing on this trip. The cost of building supplies has continued to increase and our cost per house was $634.
One of the houses was for Do Van Tan, Nguyen Thi Hoa and their three children. Relatives in Phuoc My Trung gave them enough land to build a 32 square meter house. Prior to this they had been living with relatives in another town. They said that without our help they would never have had a house of their own. The dedication of this house was shown on local television. For more about this family, see the May, 2007 Dispatch.
This house was dedicated to the memory of our friend and long time supporter, Joan “Duffy” Newberry.
We built four houses this trip, one in Phuoc My Trung, one in Vinh Hoa, one in Tan Phu and one in Long Thoi, all in Ben Tre province. The families were referred to us by the Peoples Committees in each town.
Building supplies have again gone up, primarily because of the increase in fuel and transportation costs, and our average price for these houses was about $560. Also, we have increased the amount we pay our contractors from $63 to $94 per house.
The family in Tan Phu is typical of our house recipients. Miss Tha, the head of household is 77 and unable to work. Also in the home are her daughter, age 39, and her grandson, age 17, who earn their living by doing casual labor when it’s available for about $1.00 to $1.50 per day.
We built five houses, one in Thanh An, one in Tan Phu, two in Phuoc My Trung, and one in Chau Thanh district, all in Ben Tre province. Because of higher fuel prices, building materials are now more expensive, and the average price of our houses was $472, about 25% higher than last year.
The first four families were referred to us by the Peoples Committee in each town. The fifth, Nguyen Thi Dung, was referred to us by Mr. Le Huynh, Director of the Society to Support Poor People and People with Disabilities of Ben Tre Province. We have been developing a relationship with him for about a year and think he will be a valuable partner and source of referrals for us. Le Huynh has devoted his life to public service. He is the former President of the Ben Tre Province Peoples Committee (something like Governor in the U.S.) and two years ago founded the society. He works full time as a volunteer and does not receive any compensation or tangible benefits. He has his hand on the pulse of people in need in his province, and works to help people in need in many of the same ways that we do. Our childrens heart surgery coordinator, Miss Yen, uses him as her primary referral source for Ben Tre.
Now to Miss Dung (pronounced Yoom). She’s a single mother with one three year old boy. On learning that she was pregnant, her boyfriend left her and she has raised her son alone with the help of her aunt. She had no land and no home. Additionally, her son had congenital heart disease. Heart surgery was arranged by Le Huynh and the boy is doing well. Dung has been living in Saigon because she found housework there for about $20 per month, and her son has been living with her aunt. When the possibility of having a house came up, her aunt gave her enough land to put a house on and she has now moved into her new house with her son. She makes a living doing occasional labor when it’s available at the standard rate for this area of $20,000 Viet Nam Dong about $1.25 U.S. per day.
Mrs. Bay in her old house
Several factors affect the cost of these houses and we expect to have to pay about $450 for a standard design 32 square meter house on our next trip. We have been building these houses with one brick wall and the other three walls made of coconut wood planks. The price of coconuts has tripled in the last year and a half (to about 10 cents per coconut) and consequently fewer people are willing to cut their trees for wood. Because of this we are now building all four walls with brick. Also, the cost of any construction material that has to be transported has increased because of the increase in fuel prices. Labor costs remain low.
Mrs. Bay is helped to the dedication of her new house
One of our recipient families is 84 year old Mr. Tam and his 76 year old wife Mrs. Bay. Living with them are their son, daughter-in-law, a nine year old granddaughter and eight year old grandson. Earlier this year their home was damaged and Mrs. Bay severely burned in a house fire. Mr. Tam has very poor vision and finds it difficult to get around. The family has income when their son or daughter-in-law can find work. The house was dedicated and presented to them along with gifts from the Peoples Committee of a tea set and blanket.
We built two houses on this trip for families that did not have adequate shelter, both in Phuoc My Trung. The cost of each house was $386.
1. Le Kim Chan is a single mother and has a 14 year old daughter. She makes her living by selling snacks, candy and cigarettes from a small stand in front of her house. Her total inventory, all she can afford, is about six dollars, and her average daily profit is about 20 to 30 cents. She occasionally has work at another family’s home business processing coconuts, and this gets her a dollar a day, sometimes a little more. Her house was about four by six meters, dirt floor, walls and roof of palm frond panels over bamboo frame. We built our standard house: four by eight meters, tile floor, brick front wall, coconut plank side and back walls and metal roof.
Mr. Tan's house is almost finished
2. Vo Van Tan is 85 and the head of household of our second house. Also living there are his son, 43, who is mentally disabled and unable to work, and his grandson Nha, age 14. This house was made of brick, but two walls collapsed when pushed and a third was unstable. Because there was one intact wall, an old but serviceable tile floor and some roofing material that was reusable, this house cost us slightly less than our budgeted amount and we used part of it to buy a bed and mosquito net for Mr. Tan.
Mr. Tan's grandson Nha at work
Nha, the grandson, goes to school in the mornings and works for a neighbor in the afternoons making rope from coconut husk fiber. He is paid by rice two meals a day. We also heard that he is an excellent student in grade eight and confirmed this with Mr. Huu, the principal of the middle school. Nha has received school supplies and textbooks when we purchased them for his school last year, and we are making arrangements to see that he continues to have adequate school supplies. We also paid the balance of his school fees, about three dollars, and gave the family 40 liters of rice.
We have successfully continued our compassion house program and it is being very well received by the community. This form of charity is very important in Vietnamese society and our willingness to engage in it is welcomed and seen as an affirmation that we are willing to address their needs as they see them.
We built one house on our own for $383.00 and agreed to the Phuoc My Trung Peoples Committe request to share the cost of another with them. They had $230.00 and we provided the additional $153.
At the completion of one of the houses, there was a dedication which included us, neighbors, PC officials and a newspaper and televison reporter.
As before, Phuong's brother personally purchased all construction materials and contracted the labor.