HFH Vietnam To Hand Over First Eight Houses Completed In Rainbow Village Project

Project In Southern Province Of Kien Giang Building Houses and Vocational Training Center For Families Who Lived And Worked At Dump Site

KIEN GIANG, 18th March 2009: Dozens of families whose lifeline was tied to a garbage dump in Kien Giang province in the south of Vietnam are about to experience a new life. On 20th March 2009, they will start a new beginning when Habitat for Humanity Vietnam hands over the first eight of what could be as many as 90 houses under the Rainbow Village project.

Houses in the Rainbow Village project are built in a row and range from 32 to 35 sq. m.

Each house will have a living room, one bed-room, a cooking area, a toilet/bathing room, laundry and food preparation space and a two sq. m. courtyard.

The school near the dump site now has male students. Photos by Mikel Flamm.

Used to scavenging on the dump site and now at the beach, Le Van Thu looks forward to building Habitat homes as a construction trainee.

Danh Thi Ngoc Oanh is eager to learn after seeing the difference that education has on her children.

Thach Thi Tyen is determined that her children shall not lack educational opportunities.

The aim of the Rainbow Village project is to transform the lives of families who used to work and live at the Vinh Quang dump site in the provincial capital Rach Gia. In addition to secure, decent and affordable housing, the families will have access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, educational opportunities and sustainable livelihood alternatives through the provision of housing microfinance services.

Among the guests who will be witnessing the handover of the Habitat houses are Le Van Hong, chairman of Kien Giang’s Union of Friendship Organizations; Tran Thanh Binh, vice-chairman of Kien Giang’s People’s Committee; Nguyen Cong Minh Bao, national director of Catalyst Foundation, Habitat’s partner in Rainbow Village and representatives from HFH Vietnam as well as HFH Australia.

Funding for the Rainbow Village project comes from Communities for Communities, a Sydney-based charity in Australia; Singapore property developer CapitaLand through HFH Singapore; Australia market research consultancy Colmar Brunton, and HFH Australia.

Work on the Rainbow Village project site in Vinh Quang ward, Rach Gia city, began in late July 2008 with site clearance. HFH Vietnam commenced construction of houses and infrastructure in early December 2008 and the project is scheduled to be completed in December 2010. The Rainbow Village will also feature a two-story vocational training center and infrastructure such as roads, footpaths, water and electricity supply, storm-water drainage and septic tanks.

Houses are built in a row and range from 32 to 35 square meters. Each house will have a living room, one bed-room, a cooking area, a toilet/bathing room, laundry and food preparation space and a two sq. m. courtyard. The houses have concrete columns and brick walls which will be plastered and painted, tiled floors and painted metallic roofs.

The new Habitat homes are a world of difference for the former dump site dwellers who are used to shanty houses built with whatever materials salvaged from the dump site: bamboo, thatch, plastic and pieces of tin sheeting.

During the handover ceremony, Danh Ut will be among the eight Habitat home partners who will be receiving symbolic keys to their new homes. Ut was only 13 when he had to leave school to work on the Vinh Quang dump site with his parents. He continued working on the dump site after he was orphaned a few years later.

Now married with two children, he would have continued with the hazardous job of picking recyclable items from the dumpsite if not for HFH Vietnam and Catalyst Foundation. Ut was among some 30 people from the community who joined the Rainbow Village project’s construction trainee program.

Meanwhile, his wife Huyen is learning new skills under a financial training course which all Habitat home partners have to undergo. She said: “Now we know how to budget and we have learned how to save money.” With the skills training that he has received, Ut hopes to provide for his family of four by finding employment as a construction worker.

Other families are also experiencing positive changes. Thirty boys have joined the first batch of 30 female students in a school started by Catalyst, a non-profit organization headquartered in Minnesota, the USA. Aged six to 16, the girls used to attend the school near the former dump site for three hours in the morning and join their families to scavenge at the rubbish dump in the afternoon.

The girls would have continued in their parents’ footsteps except that the dump site was closed in February or March 2008. Some 20 families moved to the new dump site, located more than 20 kilometers away. But most of the families chose to remain behind. Their children’s education lies behind their decision.

“I did not want to relocate to the new dumpsite. My children are now attending school and I am anxious to take part in the construction of our new houses,” said community leader Le Van Thu. Before the closure of the dump site, Thu and his wife could make between 100,000 and 150,000 dong (US5.90 to US8.80) daily from picking through the rubbish for recyclable items. “It was hard work but we survived,” said Thu.

Thu now makes a meager living by scavenging through garbage deposited at the shore of a beach about 500 meters from where he lives. Each morning, he makes his way up the hill which was once over-run with rubbish but is now covered with one meter-high vegetation. Down he goes to the beach which was strewn with rotten food, broken bottles and plastic bottles and bags. Blackened potholes on the beach are graphic reminders of other scavengers’ forays.

Thu’s movements are reminiscent of a gold prospector. He would dig near the shoreline with his shovel and transfer the mass of sand and garbage to his metallic wash pan. He then waded out to waist-high waters where he would use the sea water to sift the contents of his pan until small metal pieces emerge. The collected metal pieces would be put into a plastic sifter which allowed sand and mud to pass through.

“At times we get lucky,” Thu said with a laugh. “I had found a diamond ring and gold rings but these are very rare. We mostly find pieces of metal, nails, and wire.”

Other than scavenging at the beach, some of the Habitat home partners work as daily wage laborers. A few families weave mats from reeds while others have set up a small home-based business selling tea and coffee.

At the mention of home construction, Thu could hardly contain his excitement. “We have been waiting for this day because we know that not only will we have work but we will be building our own houses,” said Thu, a construction trainee under a Rainbow Village program.

Ly Thong, 43, is also part of the community’s construction team. The daily wage laborer takes on jobs ranging from construction to part-time work at the local cemetery. Thong, a father of nine, said: “With my large family, I must work hard to support them. The Habitat project not only gives us the chance to build our own homes but also provides a safer, cleaner place to raise our children.”

With change in the air, the women in the community are making plans for their families’ future. Ly Thong’s wife, Danh Thi Ngoc Oanh, has signed up for the requisite financial training course. “I have seen the difference in my children now that they are learning and I see the need for us to learn too. Very few of us can read or write but soon we will have the chance to attend a night class to teach us these skills and learn how to manage our own small businesses.”

For Thach Thi Tyen, she is determined that her children shall not be deprived of educational opportunities as she was. Due to poverty, both her husband and she began working at very young ages. “The years we have spent working on the dumpsite were very difficult but we had few choices.” Their health also suffered with the long hours at the dump site. The past is now behind her. “I am very happy to see my two sons attend school. I want my children to have the opportunities which I did not have before.”

While Habitat and its partners are making steadfast progress in helping families in need in Kien Giang through the Rainbow Village and other projects, its efforts have not gone unnoticed. During a televised awards ceremony and fundraising concert for the poor in the provincial capital Rach Gia, the country’s former Vice-President Truong My Hoa lauded HFH Vietnam for making major contributions in the province.

HFH Vietnam was among donor organizations which were recognized by the Vietnamese government for making a difference in people’s lives in Kien Giang through the provision of decent homes, credit funding, healthcare equipment, scholarships and more. Bui Ngoc Suong, chairman of Kien Giang’s People’s Committee noted that the province had received more than 178 billion dong (about US10.6 million) from more than 780 domestic and international organizations and individuals in 2008.

Habitat’s award — a plaque, with the Chinese character for prosperity, which was signed by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung — was collected by Ernesto Castro, Habitat for Humanity International’s Southeast Asia program manager.

Other recipients of the award included Catalyst Foundation and Holcim, a strong Habitat supporter which is one of the world’s leading producers of cement and aggregates.