Habitat Gears Up For Jimmy Carter & Rosalynn Work Project 2009 With Land Preparation Beginning In Main Chiang Mai Site

January 28th, 2009

JRCWP 2009 Also Comprises Concurrent Builds In Northern Vietnam, Cambodia, Southern China And Laos

Satisfaction: Boontat with his family outside his Habitat house which he helped build. All photos by Mikel Flamm.

CHIANGMAI, 28th January 2009: For 15 years, Boontat Sumalai and his family had to put up with living in a bamboo house which strained under the weight of annual rains in Chiang Mai. “When the wind came, the house would shake,” said Boontat, adding that leaks were dealt with by covering the thatched roof with a plastic sheet.

While Boontat, a 54-year-old mason, had entertained the thought of building a new house for his wife and daughter, the plan never materialized. His low income and the cost of a new house were the main deterring factors, he said.

What seemed impossible more than a decade ago is a reality now. Boontat is a picture of relaxation as he sat on the linoleum floor of his house built with Habitat for Humanity. His 15-year-old daughter’s drawings are hung on the wall behind him. With pride in his voice, he recounted how he mixed cement, did the floor and plastered walls of his house. “Because I built the house with my own hands, I know that it is strong,” he said with a satisfied smile.

Boontat’s story speaks of the hope and promise which a Habitat home brings. Like Boontat, dozens of other families in need will also benefit from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2009 which is set to take place in Chiang Mai in November 2009.

During the one-week blitz build, Habitat plans to build 82 homes for families in need in Chiang Mai. The homes to be built will be a present for the King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in honor of his 82nd birthday in 2009.

In addition to the main project site in Chiang Mai, builds will be held concurrently in Hai Duong province, northern Vietnam; Yunnan province, southern China; Cambodia and Laos. JRCWP 2009 will also begin a five-year Habitat for Humanity initiative to assist tens of thousands of families across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and southwestern China by engaging corporations, individuals and partners in the fight to end poverty housing.

Verdant: The Chiang Mai site for the JRCWP 2009 used to be an orchard.

For the main project site, HFH Thailand has purchased a plot of land in Nong Gon Kroo village, about 30 minutes’ drive from the city center. Measuring some 17 rai (one rai is equivalent to 1,600 square meters) or more than 28,000 square meters in size, the site was formerly an orchard with a few mango, longan and lychee trees still bearing fruit though they are not being harvested.

Habitat has started to clear vegetation on the land and has done technical surveys with other planning in the pipeline. Habitat has also sought the assistance of the Chiang Mai government in expediting the building permits as well as allowing the use of heavy equipment for site work. Groundbreaking is scheduled in February.

HFH Thailand’s Habitat Resource Center North, which is spearheading the project, will collaborate with a team of architects and planners from Chiang Mai’s Maejo University to work on the master plan for the 82 houses.

While families such as Boontat’s have received the leg-up from Habitat’s program in Chiang Mai, the JRCWP 2009 could yet lift others such as Nida “Keaw” Potongkanong out of their dire straits.

Keaw lives with her half-blind aunt in a shack built on private land in Pha Mai village. The windowless shelter is made of wooden boards and topped with a rusty tin roof. Fifty-seven-year-old Keaw makes a meager living by selling grilled vegetables such as pumpkin, onion, garlic and chilli in market fairs and earns 200 baht (US5.80) each day if business is good.

After a night of incessant rain, Keaw was left looking forlornly at a damp shack and ruined plans of sales in the market fair. Worse, Keaw’s aunt Bang Comemoon caught a cold but could not afford the 500 baht medical consultation fee.

Simple wish: Keaw (in orange) would like to live with her aunt and her son in a house which can withstand the elements.

Tight squeeze: Umpond’s home is a two-story shack sandwiched between a temple and a stadium.

“I really want a good house for my aunt and my son. It does not have to be a luxury house, just a simple house so that when it rains, we do not need to move,” said Keaw. Her 21-year-old son, conscripted into the army, is due to finish his service in early 2009. She looks forward to her son returning home and finding a job. In the long term, she hopes to set up a shop selling cooked food in front of a new home.

Keaw’s hope for a decent house is a wish that Umpond Cometui can identify with. The 53-year-old noodle seller lives with her family of eight in a two-story shack that is sandwiched in an alley between the Wat Ku Tao temple and the Chiang Mai Municipal Stadium.

The family’s shack nestles against the outer wall of the compound surrounding Wat Ku Tao and is made of a combination of wooden boards and bricks with a corrugated iron sheet roof and canvas sheets serving as a canopy. The family gets water from the stadium nearby and has a toilet next to the living quarters. In addition to Umpond and her family, six other families also live in shacks in the alley, on land belonging to the stadium.

The stories of Keaw and Umpond are shared by about 1,000 families who live in several informal slum communities in Chiang Mai. With the 2009 JRCWP and the longer term Habitat initiative in the Mekong region, families sharing Keaw’s and Umpond’s plights can look to moving into solid and safe homes with proper water and sanitation facilities. To informal settlers such as Umpond, her sense of security lies in a proper house. “Even when I am away at work, I know that my house is still waiting for me because it will be my own house, built on my own land.”