QUANG NGAI, Vietnam – The house where Ngô Thị Chiến and her disabled son Ngô Quang Trung used to live was little more than a fragilely balanced structure of wood, tarps, tin and sandbags.
Dark and cramped, the shelter barely had room inside for a single bed. Yet, from this space Trung, 43, ran a convenience store, while his mother, 66, works in the neighbor’s rice fields.
The house is located near the Trà Bòng River in the province of Quảng Ngãi, Vietnam, where land elevations are low. During past rainy seasons, the rising flood water threatened to wreck the delicate structure, reaching up to the top of the doorway.
In the fall of 2009, when typhoons Ketsana and Mirinae damaged many homes in Quảng Ngãi with wind and rain, the house had little chance of staying in one piece. Trung and Chiến fled to a local school and hid there until the storms abated.
In December, MCC Vietnam began a disaster relief project in Quảng Ngãi, where MCC partners with the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VaVa). The organization works directly with people affected by Agent Orange. VaVa identified Chiến’s and Trung’s home as one of 22 to be replaced with $20,000 from MCC’s Asia Disaster response.
Trung, a member of VaVa, suffers from severe physical effects from Agent Orange, an herbicide that contains the toxic chemical dioxin, used during the Vietnam War to destroy ground cover. His muscles did not develop properly, making him unable to support his own body weight.
With help from neighbors, the house was built in just one month; it was ready in time for Vietnamese New Year celebrations in February.
From the outside, the house radiates joy with its cheery, yellow coat of paint. Although located at the same place, the new house has been built higher to limit the effects of flooding. Inside the house is a large room, light and open, with a lofty ceiling. The cement floor can withstand any water that enters the house. Shelves on the walls hold snacks for sale in orderly rows. The bed that Trung lies on is near the window, where he can enjoy the daylight.
A special feature of the new house is what the Vietnamese refer to as the attic. Similar to a loft or an indoor balcony, a set of stairs leads up to a small landing used for storage much of the year, except when it floods. Then the storage area becomes a shelter from the encroaching waters. Trung believes no house in the area should be without an attic.
The new house cannot be compared to the old one, Trung said, because he would not call what he lived in before a house. Now, through the work of the neighbors, with assistance from MCC, Trung and Chiến live in what they proudly call a house.