The 52 Weeks Project: Week 4
The Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program is a volunteer program through that consists of short-term house-building trips around the world. In essence, teams of 8-20 volunteers spend a week or more building houses in partnership with Global Village affiliates around the world. I have been on 5 Global Village Habitat for Humanity trips to date, 3 of them as leader. All of them so far were to Hawaii, where the high standard of living results in a disparity of income and causes a shortage of affordable housing. Recently, I was quoted in the Habitat for Humanity West Hawaii Annual Report. It was such an honour, so I’m going to share a bit more about my experience with Habitat.
This year, when the cold started arriving in October, I contacted Habitat Global Village Canada to find out if I could lead another build in Hawaii. I was told that the trip roster was full but they did need someone to lead a team to El Salvador. El Salvador? What do I know about El Salvador? I thought…but then I a voice inside of me said Why not? and so I’m leading a team of 12 Canadians to build homes in El Salvador from April 5th to 13th 2014.
At this point, I am going to make a confession as a Global Village Habitat for Humanity leader… I dislike hammering nails, caulking, painting houses, and… anything construction related, would never be listed as favourite things on my list. I find doing those things mentally challenging and sometimes I find that I am cursing a bit in my head when I do any of those things. This leads me to ask myself. Why do I willingly volunteer my time and money to do these things? What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? Well, I’ll tell you.
I believe everyone deserves a safe, secure place to sleep at night. It is something that I sometimes take for granted. It’s easy to find things to complain about –the noise outside, the shower pressure, the lack of laundry, my hydro bill. All in all, my life is pretty sweet, and everyone in my social circle have a safe, secure place to sleep, but I know that we are the minority in this big ‘ol world of ours.
Every Habitat build has had its moments while holding a hammer, caulking, painting, laying flooring, or moving concrete blocks. There are things that I remember from trips gone by.
- I remember Aunty Gwen thanking us in tears for working on her house.
- I remember stopping the caulking work that I was doing, to hold the Fernandes’ baby and hearing that the house we were building meant that Mom, Dad, and the 2 small kids didn’t have to share a double bed anymore.
- I remember Luana and Jay’s house and how rotted the wood was that it crumbled, and seeing their kids arriving home from school.
- I remember building frames and lifting them up with the team on TJ’s house as his wife and baby looked on cheering.
- I remember painting the house when Kamaka, a Hawaiian man in his late 50s told me that, after so many years together, he married Beverley two days before on Saturday. He felt that the future was bright. I know it was because he finally felt like he had a future, and the house was almost done.
- I remember looking at the van that Ben and Naomi lived in, and looking at the makeshift outdoor kitchen under the keawe tree that they cooked under. I thought of Ben going home every night from his job at the airport doing agricultural inspection while all the tourists drove off to stay at luxury resorts.
Those are things that mean something to me. So I don’t mind it so much when I’m on a Global Village trip. I know that I am changing peoples’ lives for the better to give them a safe place to live. I understand that when you have a home, you have a sense of belonging in this world, and only good things come from feeling like you belong. I get so much out of it. My own sense of belonging, not just from the families that I work alongside with, but from every volunteer who comes on my Habitat for Humanity team. We arrive as strangers, work alongside the families, experience the culture, we hammer, caulk, paint, we do what needs to be done and we do it laughing, and sharing and then we leave connected to one another.
Come to El Salvador with me in April 2014
If you’re interested in coming to build houses in El Salvador, please join me. I can promise that it’ll be a trip that you’ll never forget. Tell your friends too. Here’s a link for more information.
There are trips going everywhere so check the trip schedule.
10 things to know about volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity Global Village Trip
- You will be more than a tourist. You will be welcomed into the community by your hosts and introduced to the local culture as a guest. You will work and laugh together, share stories and make friends. As you let go of many of the comforts of home, you will start to focus on things that matter.
- Trips do have a cost associated with them. A large portion of the trip cost is used as a donation to the local Habitat Affiliate’s building costs and the rest is used for team accommodation, transportation, and lodging (airfare not included). The interesting thing in this model is that you are making a donation, but then you are seeing exactly where the donation is going, because you’re showing up to the country to build homes. You can fund raise for your trip. People who contribute to you can get a tax receipt.
- Families aren’t getting a free house. Habitat offers a Hand Up and not a Handout. Habitat homes are sold to families, not given to them free of charge. In addition, families help to build their own home, many of them putting in 300-500 hours of “sweat equity” in their own houses and the community.
- Habitat started as a Christian organization, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means. Habitat homeowners don’t have to be Christian to get a home. Likewise, volunteers don’t have to be Christian. I can assure you am not making people read the Bible or forcing people to pray (that’s so not me…). No one cares if you’re a Christian or not. You don’t have to pray if you see people praying, just don’t be a jerk about it. Likewise if you want to pray to any god you want, go ahead, pray. No one’s going to bother you. Your trip leader will see to it.
- You don’t have to be handy to come on a build trip you just need a willing to work. Everywhere a Habitat team goes to build, there is a site supervisor who will break down the work into tasks. He or she will teach us what we’re doing and then we’ll go do it. That’s how it works.
- We get a medley of ages on each trip. The minimum age for team members ia 15 years ol. Minors between 15 and 18yrs of age on open teams must be accompanied by their parent or legal guardian. On your own, you have to be 18. The oldest person that I ever had on my team was 83 years old. The best team in my opinion, is a mix of ages so no one cliques up.
- It’s mostly work, but not all work. Generally work hours will be 8-4 on weekdays. Most teams spend a few days – depending on the length of the trip – touring local historic sites and attractions or participating in cultural activities. Visits to national parks, hiking, and touring can be part of the Global Village experience depending on where we go.
- Strangers are friends that you just haven’t met yet. A Global Village team is made up of people from all across Canada from all walks of life. You’ll make friends because you have shared values and experience working together towards a common goal. Not to mention that sometimes you’ll be sharing a room with them (girls with girls, boys with boys). These will be some of the best people that you know in life. Trust me.
- Calling all ambassador and angels When you go on a Global Village trip, you’re an ambassador for Canada and for Habitat. It really boggles the mind of families that there are people in this world who are taking vacation in order to help work to build a home. To raise someone up to make them feel good is a pretty awesome feeling. I’ve seen situations where there are families saying thank you, and volunteers saying “No…Thank You!!!“
- You’ll learn stuff. You’ll learn about yourself. How you are with people. How you connect with people. You’ll also learn how to be handy. I had previously done a ‘Women and Power Tools‘ class, but I never really learned how to use a chop saw until I was on a Habitat for Humanity trip. As I measured and chopped the wood for building a wheelchair ramp I thought Holy cow! I’m really chopping wood to build something! Come April in El Salvador, I’m going to learn how to make a house out of concrete and rebar. When I will use this again, I have no clue, but maybe it’s a good thing to know in a zombie apocalypse, not to mention, I’ll be learning while helping a family have a home in this world.
Big Island 2012: Dee, Carolyn, Robyn, Jane, Jenna, Stacy, Wilma, Sara, Amber, Brian, Kevin, Michael, Forest, and Christine
Kauai 2011: Brandon, Kathryn, Ken, Claire, Brenda, David, Michelle, Joy, Jean, Otto, Gigi, Maureen, Maryann, Pauline, Murray, Mark, Vivian