Habitat For Humanity Mongolia Completes Blue Sky Build

About 100 International Volunteers Work On 29 Houses During Five-Day Build

ULAANBAATAR, 22nd July 2010: On the fourth day of the Blue Sky Build in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, volunteer Kathie Moran from the U.S. looked at crimson roofing sheets being installed. “A roof makes all the difference,” she said. “A house without a roof is just a box. A roof provides shelter.”

Volunteers installing roofing sheets on one of the houses.

International and local volunteers and local skilled workers on the last day of the build.

Jerrica Chooi (left) and her Singaporean team-mate Kao Shih Teng sawing wood for the roof rafters.

Barbara and Steve Szemenyei, from the U.S., showing their expertise in brick-laying.

Habitat home partner Batnyam Sanjjundaan up on the scaffolding laying bricks.

The next day, more roofing sheets were installed as Habitat for Humanity Mongolia marked the fifth and last day of the blitz build which also commemorated its 10th anniversary.

About 100 international volunteers from the U.S., China and Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and Nepal marked the end of build by taking photos with the Habitat families whom they worked with to build 29 homes.

Over the five days, volunteers worked hard to complete each day’s construction schedule. Amid scorching heat which alternated with brief storms accompanied by gusty winds, the volunteers put up layers of insulating materials on the outside of the houses before laying the bricks. The insulation work continued inside the houses – necessary steps to help families withstand the harsh Mongolian winter.

By the third day of the build, some houses had their windows and doors installed and brick walls built up to the roof level. The sound of sawing and volunteers and workers ambling with thick wooden planks completed the backdrop as roof rafters were put up.

For many volunteers, the build was their maiden Habitat stint. More accustomed to typing on the computer keyboard than wielding a trowel and mortar board, sore muscles was a common experience. “I couldn’t lift my hand when I was brushing my teeth,” said Jerrica Chooi from Singapore.

The regional financial controller from Otis Elevator, however, developed great camaraderie with a skilled mason. He taught her enough to make her feel like an expert bricklayer by the fourth day of the build.

Steve and Barbara Szemenyei from Los Angeles in the U.S., were veteran builders welcomed by their less experienced team-mates. Seventy-eight-year-old Steve and Barbara, 76, nearly did not make it to the build because of flight delays.

The couple, who had taken part in 14 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Projects, spent four-and-a-half days at various airports and on flights before reaching Ulaanbaatar a day after the start of the Blue Sky Build.

The couple proved to be an invaluable addition to the team which comprised four volunteers from South Korea. Steve, who had been laying bricks since he was 14 years old, climbed up and down from the scaffolding, expertly placing bricks after he scooped up mortar. In between, he found time to instruct his team-mates such as Mee-Ree Moon from South Korea.

Other than international volunteers, Mongolia-based volunteers also chipped in. They ranged from HFH Mongolia’s corporate partners such as Xac Bank and South Gobi Sands to non-governmental organizations like Joint Christian Services and World Vision Mongolia.

The diplomatic corps made their presence felt by sending a total of more than 60 volunteers on the first day of the build. A 17-member team from the British embassy was led by ambassador Bill Dickson to Mongolia.

The U.S. ambassador to Mongolia, Jonathan Addleton, also worked on the site with his wife Fiona together with more than 40 volunteers comprising U.S. embassy staff and members of the U.S. embassy alumni in Ulaanbaatar.

While the Addletons worked on putting in insulation material between the wood frames of the interior walls, their two teenage sons Iain and Cameron were later up on the roof of another house, putting up rafters. The younger Addletons’ cousin John White was also a volunteer.

Among the local volunteers, a group of them played an important role. Several students from the Technical and Technological College in Ulaanbaatar, who volunteered daily at the site, contributed significantly to the speed and quality of the construction.

“The students are good at carpentry, plastering and bricklaying. That was why we were so fast,” said house leader Carol Casperson who was director of Habitat for Humanity Washington D.C. for more than two decades before she retired two years ago.

Habitat home partners also worked hard to build their own homes. Among them was Batnyam Sanjjundaan. The 23-year-old single parent of triplet girls and a boy took time off from her supermarket sales job to work on her house.

The international volunteers who worked alongside her made an impression. “They are very hardworking. Whenever I asked for help, they are very helpful,” said Batnyam who carried bricks and other construction materials and lay bricks among other tasks.

Of her three daughters who are now five years old, two of them need regular visits to the hospital because of heart condition and joint pain. Batnyam spends half of her 250,000-tugrik (about US183) monthly salary on her daughters’ medical bills. Another 40,000 tugriks are spent buying vitamins for her children.

Batnyam and her children live with her parents and younger brother in a two-room house about 5 km. away from the Habitat build site. “If I did not have a Habitat house, my children and I would have to live in my father’s house for the rest of our lives. I am really happy that I can live with my children in our own home.”

A total of 29 houses were constructed during the Blue Sky Build in Bayanzurkh district, Ulaanbaatar, from 28th June to 2nd July. A house was earlier completed by a Global Village team from the U.S.

The government had donated a 1.9 hectare plot of land on which the houses were built. Xac Bank, a community development bank and microfinance institution headquartered in Ulaanbaatar, sponsored 30 eco-toilets for Habitat families.