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Meet Mrs Thuan

Life has not been kind to Mrs Thuan and her family.

She lives in a degraded house in a southern Vietnamese province called Dong Thap, with her two children. Her husband suffered a stroke and passed away 5 years ago. Her daughter, Trang, is intellectually disabled due to polio fever and the effects of Agent Orange inherited from her father, who served in the army during the war.

Last month, a team of volunteers came together with the sole purpose of working alongside Mrs Thuan to provide hope for the family’s future.

While Mrs Thuan was softly spoken, she set a great example for the team and encouraged us through her actions during our week-long visit to build a safe, sturdy, brick home. She ensured we had equipment nearby to use, she helped us move sand and keep the worksite tidy. Most appreciated was the fresh local fruits she prepared for us during our breaks from the hard work and 40-degree heat.

“The team has done a good job. We’ve received many comments from our neighbours who have come to see the new house. We are all working under extreme heat, but they are giving me compliments. It’s a huge pleasure to have the team here.”

Her daughter Trang cannot speak; however she could gesture with her hands, and her smile was there to greet us each day and wish us well at the end of the day with a big wave.

Up until this point most of the family’s income has been used to support Trang’s medical expenses. The younger brother, Mr Em, works as a mason or a labourer in nearby rice fields to support the family, often waking at 5am, to bring in 180 USD per month.

Mother Thuan also assists in earning extra income by working as a lotus seed peeler at home, while taking care of Trang and completing the housework, but the income is barely enough to cover their daily needs.

To survive the harsh environment, living conditions, disability and death in the family they all must work incredibly hard and as a team. For the short time we were there we were privileged to be a part of the team!

As we worked away each day, across the road was a constant reminder of the current living situation. The home was built with uneven wooden boards, a rusted and bent iron frame, and the roof consisted of a fibro cement sheet – not enough to stop it leaking during the rainy season and at constant risk of collapse.

At 63 years old, Mrs Thuan told us “I have never lived in a brick house before. I am very excited and can hardly sleep at night.”

On the final day, we met Mrs Thuan’s aunty who is 87 years old. She told us that she had a dream where it was prophesized that Mrs Thuan, her children and grandchildren would one day live in ‘a brick wall house.’

“They didn’t believe me, but it has now come true! I prayed for the family a lot as I saw their situation, especially in the rainy season. I am very happy for her (Mrs Thuan) to have a house.”

Her gratitude was obvious as she hugged me, and stayed by my side during every water break on the last day. You couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she watched on and looked over the family members.

The new home has a sturdy foundation, concrete pillars, brick walls, a cement floor and tiled roof. It’s been designed so that Trang can safely move around the home and never have to leave, despite her disability.

The volunteers are all now back home in Australia and I’ve been told by many how hard it’s been to adapt back to our way of life. Our problems are small in comparison and the daily stresses of life seem less important.

Being surrounded by people of all ages and walks of life who not only want to make the world a better place, but who actively pursue that goal is truly inspiring. I have no doubt Mrs Thuan, her beautiful family, and the volunteers, will be forever changed because of it.