Local Students Help Lift Two Habitat Families Out of Poverty Housing In South Vietnam

Sozo Café In Ho Chi Minh City Organized Volunteer Build And Funded Houses In Three-Day Build

MY THO, Vietnam, 29th June 2007: True to the Greek meaning of its name Sozo – which means “rescued, pulled from danger or lifted above trouble”, the Sozo Café in Ho Chi Minh City organized a team of 13 Vietnamese students to help two Habitat home partner families escape the misery of poverty housing. Other than contributing voluntary labor, the two Sozo Cafes located in Ho Chi Minh City also funded the house constructions in southern Vietnam.

(Top) Rain or shine, the Sozo volunteers continued working hard on Habitat home partner Bui Duy Kich’s home.(Bottom) Volunteers passing bricks for the construction of external walls.

(Top) Habitat home partner Bui Duy Kich (right) hopes for a good life for his wife Le Thi Anh Mai and son Le Duy Khanh.(Bottom) Tran Bao Nhu (right) has set her sights on becoming a doctor and helping others living in poverty. She is pictured in her old house with her mother Duong Thi Hiem.

Since opening in 2005, Sozo has provided employment for former street families to work in the cafés and offered a place where Vietnamese students could practice their English with foreigners.

Undaunted by heavy rains, the volunteers, who included the founders of Sozo Café, worked hard over three days in My Tho, capital of the southern province of Tien Giang. In the process of carrying sand and bricks along narrow muddy roads, mixing cement and building walls, the volunteers also bonded with the home partners.

At the closing ceremony, Habitat home partner Bui Duy Kich, 39, who was blinded in an accident as a teenager, could hardly conceal his happiness. The fisherman used to live in a bamboo shack with his wife Le Thi Anh Mai, 39, and three-year-old son Le Duy Khanh. Kich said: “For the last 23 years I have had no hope and no springtime in my life. Even though it is rainy season, I have spring for the first time in 23 years and I am so happy!

“Thank you for every brick you have carried, every wheelbarrow of dirt that you have brought through the mud. Even the smallest things have made a big difference to me and my family. My dream is that in the future my family can have a good life, and my son can grow up to have a healthy life and good education.”

American Rachel Lutz, one of the founders of Sozo, said: “Seeing our team reach out to the people here has been a real joy and not just for the three days we are here. This experience will change their way of looking at poverty and how they can later share with others what they learned here because even the poorest people in the countryside and the cities are their people.”

For the volunteers, seeing poverty first-hand was an experience most of them will never forget. At the same time, the Habitat home partners, who are no strangers to poverty, relished the opportunity to work together with the student volunteers, and to share their life experiences and dreams of a safe and decent home with their young visitors.

The other Habitat home partner family is 64-year-old Duong Thi Hiem whose husband died more than eight years ago. Life was a struggle for Hiem and her daughter Tran Bao Nhu, 18, who live in a cramped one-room house for many years. Hiem earned a living by selling lottery tickets to support her daughter Nhu who has excelled in her studies through high school. Nhu has applied to Polytech Phan University in My Tho to study medicine and has set her sights on becoming a doctor.

“I feel lucky to have grown up in poverty,” said Nhu. “I understand the needs of the people who struggle from day to day. My mother has made sure we always had enough to eat but we have had difficult times. This has prepared me for my future. I know now that I wish to help others who live in poverty because I understand the hardships.

“This house will give us security and warmth, and has made my mother and me very happy. This new home will help me to be more successful in my schooling and studies.”

Volunteer Pham Thuy Dan Thanh, 16, said: “I have never seen living conditions like this before so it opened my eyes to understand life in the country.

“We have all learned a lot by being here to build for the families as we carried bricks in the mud and the rains. I learned the difference between the city and the countryside and the warmth of the people here. I wish I could stay longer to help these families.

“I admired the daughter who, despite the fact that she is very poor, continues to try her best to better her life and the blind man who is determined to have a better future for his family.”