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Habitat for Humanity – Chiang Mai, Thailand Build

Habitat for Humanity – Chiang Mai, Thailand Build.

November (15 – 20th November 2009) bought a predominantly female crew of incredible New Zealanders together in Thailand, to build houses and promote awareness of an amazing charity called Habitat for Humanity. Trelise Cooper and her husband Jack, who are very involved with the charity, spearheaded the initiative to convince a number of high powered women to take a week out of their busy schedules to give something back to others less fortunate.

Trelise exudes an energy which made all involved very keen to be there – everyone decided that if the fabulous Trelise can build a house, then we all can. Some of those on the build were Julie Christie and Alison Hunter, Sara Tetro, Donna Fyfe, Greer Robson, Nerida Cortese, Caroline Marr from TDC, Ro Roberts, and Pieter and Myken Stewart, Heather Brown and Karen Archibald from Christchurch, while Trelise had 9 people who work with her and had fundraised to make it all happen.

Habitat has been around since 1979 and now has some very well known supporters such as Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter who were present at the Chiang Mai build. All those who participate had to pay for their flights, and some did a lot of extra fundraising for Habitat International. On this particular build there were over 2200 people working to build 82 houses. NZ proudly had the second largest contingent of 47 people, with the biggest crew being from USA where Habitat is very much alive and kicking.

The partner families who the house will belong to, work together with volunteers on the build, which engenders a big commitment from both sides. As volunteers you are aware and want to make sure the residents aren’t looking at a badly plastered corner for the rest of their lives and thinking she did a bad job on that, or wondering if a wall will fall down!! Building was no walk in the park – it was hard physical work for 9 hours each day in extreme heat and humidity – and it took almost an hour by bus each way to get to the build. At the end, after five full on days of building, a hand-over ceremony formally gives each house to their future inhabitants. This is understandably very emotional, and most particularly for house No 15 which was an all female build with just one wonderful man from Hamilton as the master builder – who didn’t know he would be working with 16 women before he arrived at the site!! The feeling of empowerment amongst the crew mixed with the happiness for the family with a new house is just an incredible and humbling experience. Once the build is over the commitment for the family has just begun as they will pay a very small and manageable mortgage to live in the house. It’s an arrangement that is very practical and fair which also benefits HFH as it feeds back into the organization.

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International Celebs and Media The Mekong build in Chaing Mai attracted a lot of publicity to get the word out there to the world. Trelise Cooper was our key NZ celebrity along with Nakata (the Japanese David Beckham); Emily Bergl (actress from Men in Trees); and Sojun Lee (actor from Korea). All were busy doing interviews throughout the week. We also dragged a few of our well known people into photos such as Nerida, Greer, Sara and Julie Christie – but to be honest it was a tough job to pull anyone away from the build, everyone just wanted to work hard and get the house built.

The Future – another build at NZFW 2010 NZFW and Trelise are in discussions with Habitat for Humanity New Zealand about how we can partner together again during Fashion Week in 2010.


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