Carter Work Project family in Thailand fulfills dreams

Among the 82 families in the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Phairat Sae-Uwa has improved his income and his wife has completed higher education

(Top) Phairat Sae-Uwa (left), carrying his daughter Rosida, and standing on the threshold of his house with his son Rusdee. Joining them were a neighbor and her child; Saenghan (right) with her daughter and son. (Bottom) The Sae-Uwa family in front of their house in mid-2011. Photos by Chalongrat Chairat; Hanzel Sarceda.

BANGKOK (September 17, 2013) — When this year’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project begins on October 6, it will be the 30th time that Habitat’s most famous volunteers have given a week of their time to help build and improve houses. In the past three decades, Asia has played host to the Carter Work Project four times in eight countries.

In November 2009, Thailand was among five countries in the Mekong region which saw a total of nearly 3,000 volunteers build and repair 166 homes. The other locations for the weeklong build were Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China’s Sichuan province.

Four years ago, Phairat Sae-Uwa was overcome with emotion when volunteers handed over his new house in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand. When he was interviewed by Habitat in mid-2011, Phairat shared his dream of opening his own restaurant one day. he is the proud owner of a Japanese food stall in a night bazaar. He has also more than doubled his monthly earnings to 15,000 baht (about US545).

Phairat, 37, lives in Nong Kon Kru village in San Sai district with his wife Saenghan, 29, son Rusdee, four, and daughter Rosida.

After the couple moved into their new home, their daughter was born and Saenghan completed higher education. Among the 82 families who built homes with Habitat volunteers in the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, Phairat and Saengjan have come a long way.

The Sae-Uwa family used to live in a one-bedroom building at a local mosque where Phairat was the caretaker. Space was tight, privacy was scarce and the heat in the house made it difficult for Saengjan and her son to sleep well. To supplement the family income, Phairat and Saengjan also made soybean milk and donuts for sale at a roadside stall outside the mosque. Of his 19-hour work days, Phairat said: “I do it for my son and my wife.”

When Phairat became a Habitat home partner during the 2009 CWP, he said: “It means a lot to us that people are coming to help and build a house for us. It’s hard for me to explain but I’m touched.”

Soon after moving into their Habitat house, their life started looking up. Phairat became the assistant cook at a local Japanese restaurant. Yearning for higher education, Saengjan began to attend lessons at the CWP multi-purpose hall which was open to the residents in January 2010. She went on to complete her high school education in 2012.

Saengjan’s love of learning can be seen in the name she gave to her daughter. Rosida’s name means “the learned one”. Phairat also sends Rusdee, the couple’s son, to kindergarten on his motorcycle every day before he goes to work.

Phairat Sae-Uwa (top) was overcome with emotion at the dedication of his house, among the 82 homes completed during the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project (bottom) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In the past, Phairat and his family were on their own. Now they can look to their CWP neighbors for help. For example, Phairat, who usually returns home late from work, said he can trust his neighbors to keep an eye on his family.

“I can entrust my family to the community. I hope my children can complete their sixth grade education (equivalent of high school) and be good Thai citizens.”

The community which has earned Phairat’s trust is characterized by unity. Residents willingly come together to solve problems. They help to clean and maintain the water tank in the community which provides filtered water. The 82 families can use the multi-purpose hall for activities ranging from aerobic exercises to loans of library books. Health talks or traditional dancing for the elderly are also organized once a month.

Residents also learn about protecting their homes against fires, managing household finances, cultivating mushroom and about the bio-fermentation process for cleaning community drains.

With 82 families living in one area, economic opportunities arose. There are several home-based businesses ranging from grocery to tailoring to shoe repair. There are also a barber shop and a beauty salon.

About 20 children of CWP families attend a school about two kilometers away. The school, which can accommodate 180 students, provides education from elementary to high school levels.

Mueang Len Health Center is about one kilometer away. Among the residents in the CWP community are three public health volunteers who are each given a token sum of 500 baht (US17) per month for attending to the residents’ minor ailments.

For Phairat, nothing beats coming home and lounging in his favorite area — the living room. “It is the most spacious area in the house. Whenever I come home from work, I like to sit and relax in the living room. I always keep it clean.”

The Sae-Uwa family shows how lives are transformed by the efforts of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn and Habitat’s volunteers.

From October 6 to 12, the 30th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Work Project will return to the city where it first began in 1984. New York City is among the five U.S. locations where some 3,000 volunteers will build and repair more than 80 homes. The other locations are Oakland and San Jose in California; Denver; and Union Beach in New Jersey. Find out more about the Carters’ 30-year history with Habitat.