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Make a change

Team Make a Change recently returned from Vietnam. The female led team share their reflections on the journey as they neared the final build day…

The transfer to the build site bus rides are a little more sedate on the second last day as we use our newly discovered wifi to catch up with family and we navigate the now known streets to our build site. Everyone is kitted out, ready for the day. We have worked out what to take in our back packs — Bushman’s repellent, sunscreen, cameras and water bottles — and what we can leave on the bus and will not need at all.

The road only goes so far and we need to get off the bus and walk, or if we are lucky we get a lift from the local boys on their mopeds the extra 1.5 km to build site. Today the motor bikes are a bit slow to show, but some of us still manage to get a lift from a passing strangers, and the others just walk.

Final team shot

Arriving on site we are beginning to see progress. It is beginning to look like a house. We have our team meeting with Mr Minh our fabulous foreman, and he lets us know how many he needs to build each wall, how many to mix mortar, how many to sand the windows and how many to carry bricks or wheel barrow sand. We have all found a certain groove, a rhythm, and we quickly fall into the roles we feel most comfortable doing. Luckily the roles are evenly spread and each person seems to get the job they want. A virtue of being with the group we are with. No one is boss, no one is bossed, we seem to move effortlessly to the jobs that suit us and all jobs are covered. We are a perfect working machine, each with a different strength and each aware of each others preferences while still checking in to make sure everyone is happy. An amazing female troop filled with empathy, intelligence and endurance.

The morning passes quickly as we move slowly and steadily through our individual roles. Mixing the mortar, sanding the windows, removing old paint with very few modern day tools and an abundance of patience and urgency to get the job done before we leave. We build walls that actually any tradie or bricklayer would be very proud of. We are proud.

The sun is hot, but it is the air and humidity that are the trouble in the mornings. The heat surrounds us and engulfs us at times. The work is slow as Mr Minh keeps calling “slowly, slowly.” It is supposed to be the hottest day yet and we can feel it already. Before things get too hot or too hard it’s fruit time. Each day we are fortunate to sample a different, delightful tropical treat. Today green bananas, that taste amazing and then some traditional cakes. The rest and snack is well earned and well needed.

All gravel and sand moved

Another pre-lunch work session, a few role changes and again we settle into our groove. Stories are shared among us new found friends as we work closely with each other. We listen to some favourite songs on a small portable speaker and we while we work, we dance, sing and chat our way to our lunch break.

Back along the track on the back of motorbikes we head to our lunch destination. We are familiar now with the routine. Lunch again exceeds expectation. Our hosts feed us the most delicious food and we realise the weight loss we had envisioned prior to the build is not going to happen. Everything is fresh and delicious. Today we have fresh coconut juice, noodle soup, omelette, duck and variety of vegetables. We feast and chat and then move gently to lie on the cool blue tiles of the home’s porch. Shoes off, we relax for our two hour siesta. We relish in the chance to rejuvenate our bodies, get out of the stifling heat and recover for the afternoon’s work schedule. After a nap, someone runs a stretching class as the joints crack and the muscles stretch. Many discover they are actually extremely flexible. Another iced coffee, caffe su da, our new favourite beverage, and we are off again to work.

Back to the site and the sun has more bite in it. We take it slowly, quietly moving into our roles. Each time we return we are blown away with our progress. Walking across the burnt rice paddies toward the site we now see a house. We see walls, we see familiar faces, we see a home. The locals greet us now with smiles and ‘choa ban’ (Vietnamese for hello). We use the Vietnamese greeting they are beginning to use the English.

The biggest change apart from the physical one of the house going up, is the change in our partner family. They have warmed to us. They smile freely, they laugh with, or perhaps at us. It is visible to see their lives will change completely with a safe and secure home to live in. They are grateful. The beautiful young home owner’s wife tries to communicate with us. She touches our arms and has learned to say, ‘how are you?’ She and her husband have, it feels like, lovingly accepted us and welcomed us into their family.

Finished internal walls

The work moves along, time passes. We are getting the hang of it. Someone wants to re-do their first layer of bricks again, now that she has it worked out and feels so confident. Pity it’s under 20 other layers of bricks. We are all a little melancholic this afternoon. Maybe its the heat, or maybe the realisation that we are nearing the end of our time here. Perhaps saddened to say goodbye though at the same time so very glad to leave a safe home for a lovely family.

As we meet for a final day’s team meeting we are praised by our foreman and we have a quiet trip home. We are all smelly, dirty and very dusty. We share our photos online. We are sad this project is closing.

We stop in a cafe on the way home and enjoy a delicious, cold(ish) beer. We talk about how we are all feeling as we near the end of this experience. Some can’t stop the tears. Words like privileged, humbled, tired, thankful come to mind. Amazed at our progress, our ability to get along and to work as a team, we thank Lisa Ellwood, whose idea it was for us to embark on this adventure and to the universe for letting us all say yes. More tears followed.

At the end of the week, 11 amazing woman, one patient and very lovely Coordinator from Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, the amazing Mr Minh, our foreman and his team of talented construction workers came together to create something that will impact generations. It was an amazing experience which will never be forgotten for everyone.

Signing on the house walls

Find out more about volunteering in Vietnam.

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