Building homes, toilets, and climate resilience

While travelers easily lose themselves in the wonders of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, Old Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh city, as in many developing countries in the tropics of Southeast Asia, poverty is deeply felt far in the countryside. Wander farther and poor villages with patchwork houses made of bamboo, coconut leaves, and discarded tarpaulin banners replace the usual tourist views. While testaments to the resourcefulness and sheer resilience of the people, these makeshift shelters are of low quality and temporary at best, easily affected by year-round typhoons, storms, flooding, and other natural disasters. How can these vulnerable communities think about water, sanitation, and health when their basic need of a decent home is unmet?

Since 2010, Thrive has been building Compassion Homes in 12 provinces of Vietnam, including Quang Nam, Thanh Hóa, and Da Nang. The program helps families face climate change with climate-resilient homes that combine architectural elements such as elevated foundations above flood levels, enhanced drainage, and improved ventilation to withstand high winds, and with locally appealing and appropriate designs.

Each Compassion Home has brick walls, cement floors, tile roofs, windows and doors with wooden frames and steel sheets, and an electrical system. The materials used meet high-quality construction standards that, when put together, can withstand climate crisis and continue to serve families for years. The families contribute their labor to the house-building process, lessening construction cost and creating an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with Thrive as well. With a house as a foundation for their lives – with space for shared meals, rest, and meaningful interactions – families more easily benefit from the installation of toilet and water connections, improving their hygiene, sanitation and overall health. So far, Thrive has built 600 Compassion Homes, averaging 50-60 homes each year since 2010.

Huynh Tan Dat still recalls the small brick house where his family used to live. Come typhoon season, strong winds would rip their roof off. Although local government financed some corrugated iron sheets to help in the repair, it remained in very bad condition and water would easily enter the house. They didn’t have electricity nor a bathroom, and the temporary wall and roofing worsened the condition during scorching summers. They belonged to the poorest in Bình Sa commune, where local residents earn $10 USD per month on average, and so home improvements were out of the question. But since building and moving into their very own Compassion Home, they no longer worry about storms or floods. With the improved living conditions, his family is able to better direct their resources to other foundational needs like food, medicine, education, savings, and sanitation.