Travel to build

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Australian students build a house for a poor man in Vinh Long Province in southern Vietnam early December

It seems like an unusual way for Australian teenagers to spend money they earned from part-time jobs, but 13 of them recently used their savings to attend special tours in southern Vietnam where they built houses for poor locals.

Using the money they earned from holding car washes and selling snacks, the teenagers from Rockhampton Grammar School in Queensland early this month traveled to Vinh Long Province, around 140 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, where they built a house for free, Tien Phong said in a report.

Tran Van Hung, a local 79 years old whose leaf house was pulled down for construction on December 2, said he and his wife never thought about having a concrete house.

Hung and his wife have lived in leaf houses since they were children until they got married. They now have nine children, all poor.

"Thus, I only wished to have a leaf house that does not leak," the man said.

His new concrete house was built with VND40 million (US$1,900) and has concrete walls, tile floors and roof made from iron sheets.

During the three days of construction, the students stayed with some teachers and parents from their school at local houses. They worked eight hours a day from 7 a.m. with three local builders.

Alexandra Barlon, the smallest student in the group who is 15 years old, received attention because she was a quick learner and skilled worker.

"I just have three days, I have to do my best," Barlon told Tien Phong.

Construction worker Nguyen Van Thuong said he only talked to the girl for 10 minutes and after that she was able to work all by herself.

To prepare for the charity tour to the Mekong Delta province, the Australian students ran a car wash shop in front of their school on weekends.

In mid-November, 20 Australian students from Molong Central School also used their two-year savings, each $100 a month, to build a concrete house for Le Van Lam, 64, in the province.

Somma Jane from the group said they had hired a place to sell biscuits, fast food and soft drinks to save up for the tour. "We also cut our personal spending."

But the students seemed happy to volunteer their time for construction. They also volunteered to carry materials from around 500 meters away to the construction site, which Lam had planned to hire locals to do.

Joel Andrew, one of the boys, waded in water up to his knees to push a boat carrying the bricks, while the girls pushed wheelbarrows with sand and cement through zigzag roads one meter wide and across narrow bridges with no handrails.

Their efforts gave Lam a house that he said he "never imagined having."

Australian students' volunteer travel tours to poor villages in southern Vietnam began three years ago through private tourism company Tailor Made Vietnam of David, an Australian man who has Vietnamese wife, the report said.

The students first built a house in Ben Tre Province, one of the poorest areas in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Since they began, students have built a total of 10 houses in the area.

Pham Thi Ngoc Trinh, deputy director of Vietnam's tourism firm Mekong Travel that joins the program, said "We're bringing the children to areas in Vietnam where no tourism has been developed, starting with poor villages."

Many students on the tour not only build houses, but they also teach English to local children and learn a lot about Vietnam in return.

Merissa Jane Reid from Molong Central spent a lot of time after the construction to go fishing on a canal with a local child, while three of her male friends learned to play football barefooted for the first time.

Mark Dooley, a parent from Rockhampton Grammar who was on the Vinh Long tour this month, said he wants his child to be on the tour "to experience, love and share with other people naturally, especially with poor ones."

Dooley said he would ask more parents in Australia to send their children to this kind of tour.

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