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Pregunta y respuesta con Joe y Hábitat (English below)

Joe Johnston es colaborador del programa de Aldea Global en Americus, Georgia, EE.UU –una de las sedes internacionales de Hábitat para la Humanidad. Todos los días, ayuda a coordinar brigadas de voluntarios estadounidenses con destino a países latinoamericanos y caribeños. Pero en esta ocasión, Joe se hizo voluntario él mismo, liderando no sólo uno, sino dos grupos de voluntarios a Haití para ayudar en la preparación del terreno para el Proyecto Carter. A su regreso, le preguntamos sobre su experiencia.

HPH: ¿Qué sabes de Haití ahora que no sabías antes del terremoto?
Joe: En realidad no sabía mucho de Haití antes de haber viajado allá. Sabía algunas cosas básicas, pero sobre todo siento que el viaje fue una experiencia que me abrió mucho los ojos. Por ejemplo, me sorprendió aprender de la falta de una red eléctrica formal o un sistema de saneamiento—aprendí cuanto carecía la infraestructura de Haití inclusive antes del terremoto. Las cosas más básicas de mi propia vida nunca han sido establecidas en Haití.

HPH: ¿Cómo impacta tu vida, tu trabajo y tus sueños el enfrentar la situación de Haití en carne y hueso?
Joe: El viaje a Haití fue una experiencia increíble. La cultura… el paisaje… la gente… todo súper lindo.  Es muy doloroso ver a tantas personas que luchan todos los días solo para sobrevivir. Haití reafirmó mi compromiso a la misión central de Hábitat: brindar acceso a viviendas adecuadas y asequibles para los que más lo necesitan. La experiencia me inspiró a continuar trabajando por un mejor futuro global.

HPH: ¿Por qué fuiste a Haití, porque otros deberían seguir apoyando?
Joe: Viajé a Haití para ser parte de una solución. Tan pronto que me enteré de que Hábitat iba movilizar brigadas de voluntarios a Haití, me alisté para unirme a una. Luego del viaje, me ofrecí para liderar otra por la increíble experiencia que era. Quiero seguir siendo parte de este esfuerzo por todo el tiempo que me sea posible. Me ha motivado a compartir mi experiencia con otros y recolectar fondos para el programa de Hábitat en Haití. Estoy convencido que otros deben seguir apoyando la recuperación de Haití, como parte de la construcción de una mejor comunidad global. Los haitianos carecen de nuestro apoyo, y por mi parte, estoy listo para ayudarles a reconstruir.

HPH: ¿Cómo has visto que los haitianos son parte de la solución?
Joe: En Leogáne, vi la comunidad de Santo trabajando arduamente para construir sus hogares. Trabajaron en equipo. Hicieron cualquier cosa y toda cosa que se tenía que hacer. Nuestra brigada tuvo la oportunidad de trabajar hombro a hombro con ellos, compartiendo el sudor y la risa. Fue una experiencia muy enriquecedora. No dudo que a esta gente tendrá un futuro sólido.

Joe Johnston
Americus, Georgia, EE.UU


Q & A with Joe and Habitat for Humanity

Joe Johnston works with the Global Village program in Americus, Georgia, U.S.A. –one of Habitat for Humanity’s global headquarters. Each day, Joe helps coordinate volunteer teams from the United States traveling to Latin American and Caribbean countries. On this occasion, however, Joe became a volunteer himself, leading not one, but two teams to Haiti to help prepare ground for the Carter Work Project. We asked Joe a few questions about what he learned.

HFH: What do you know about Haiti now, that you didn’t know before you traveled there?
Joe: Honestly, I did not know very much about Haiti before traveling there. I knew some of the basics, but most of all I feel like this trip was such an eye opening experience. I was amazed to learn of Haiti’s lack of a power grid and sanitation system, for example—that the infrastructure of Haiti was lacking before the earthquake. The things that seem most basic in my own life have never been established here.

HFH: How has experiencing Haiti firsthand impacted you, your life and your dreams?
Joe: The Global Village trip to Haiti was an amazing experience. The culture… the landscape… the people… are all so beautiful. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people struggling everyday just to get by. Haiti further cemented my dedication to Habitat’s central mission of providing decent, affordable shelter to those in need. The experience has inspired me to continue to work for a better global future.

HFH: Why did you travel to Haiti, and why should others continue to support its recovery?
Joe: I traveled to Haiti to become part of a solution. As soon as I heard that we would be sending these Global Village teams to Haiti I was ready to be a part of one. I’ve volunteered to lead another trip to Haiti because of what I experienced. I would like to continue to be a part of this effort for as long as I can. I have been motivated to share my experience and raise funds for Habitat’s program in Haiti. Others should continue to support Haiti’s recovery as part of building a better global community. The Haitians need our support, and I am ready to help them rebuild.

HFH: How have you seen the Haitian people being part of their own solution?
Joe: In Leogane, I witnessed the people from the Santo community working hard to get their homes built. They worked as a team. They did anything and everything that needed doing. Our team was able to work alongside them and share sweat and laughter. It was a very rewarding experience. I have no doubt that these people will create a great future for themselves.

Joe Johnston
Americus, Georgia, U.S.A.

“Haití estará para siempre en mí” (English below)

Recientemente regresé de Haití como parte del primer equipo enviado por Hábitat para la Humanidad para empezar a reconstruir desde que el terremoto de 7,0 grados azotó el país el 12 de enero de 2010. El terreno en que estábamos construyendo había sido donde muchas familias habían sido desplazadas y se habían instalado con sus tiendas de campaña tras el terremoto.

Los miembros de la comunidad nos contaron historias acerca de la forma en que lo perdieron todo cuando ocurrió el terremoto, cómo no podían quedarse donde estaban y recogieron lo que quedaba de sus pertenencias, también como empezaron a caminar hasta encontrar un terreno para instalar sus tiendas de campaña.

Una vez que el plan para el barrio se había establecido, fueron trasladados al otro lado de la carretera para que Hábitat pueda limpiar el terreno y empezar a construir.

Este es mi sexta construcción con Hábitat y nunca estoy preparado para las cosas que se ven. Todos los días que pasamos por los barrios, todo lo que podía ver eran filas y filas de tiendas de campaña en muy mal estado. Para alguien que trabaja en el negocio de las noticias y que sigue de cerca la historia por más de un año, yo todavía no estaba preparado para lo que vi. Toda la “ayuda” que hemos enviado no había hecho mucho para aliviar las personas que sobrevivieron el terremoto.

A un año y medio después, las familias estaban todavía en tiendas de campaña, todavía no tenía agua limpia y había una gran cantidad de escombros que aún no se habían recogido. Me recordó a Nueva Orleans después del huracán Katrina. En uno de mis viajes por allí, había casas en muy mal estado y montones de escombros que se mantuvieron en las calles durante meses.

También tuve la impresión de que las tiendas que fueron enviadas al pueblo de Haití después del terremoto estaban proporcionando un refugio habitable y seguro para los desplazados, pero con solo una mirada a las “ciudades hechas de tiendas” dejó claro que este no era el caso. Uno de los miembros de la comunidad explicó que las tiendas dejan filtrar el agua cuando hay una tormenta. Llueve muy a menudo en Haití y las tiendas se inundan fácilmente y no son seguras para que las personas permanezcan adentro.

Luego está el calor insoportable, las tiendas se calientan tanto que es imposible permanecer en el interior de ellas casi todos los días por lo que no proporcionan refugio casi a nadie. Estas tiendas de campaña que se supone que proporcionan alivio en realidad son inhabitables para las personas que se supone que deben ayudar.

Durante una reunión tipo ayuntamiento que hemos tenido con la comunidad, me puse muy emotivo al escuchar sus historias y ver cómo han perseverado a pesar de todo. Una de las mujeres utilizó un traductor para decirme que, “Mwen renmen-li anpil… Mwen enviado po-li andan mwen” que traducido significa “Me siento muy bien con ella. La siento en mi piel”. Este vínculo que hemos creado creció durante la semana que estuve allí. Ella me mostró su casa (tienda) y me presentó a su hijo. Hablamos todos los días en el lugar de trabajo y me trajo una sandía en muestra de agradecimiento de que yo esté allí.

Interactuar con la comunidad y trabajar junto a los futuros propietarios, renovó el compromiso de nuestro equipo para conseguir construir dos casas totalmente terminadas tan pronto como nos fue posible. Tuvimos éxito con nuestra meta al tener dos casas construidas antes de partir, y después de que termináramos de construir en el último día, los miembros de la comunidad se nos acercaron a las casas terminadas para sorprendernos con una fiesta de despedida, y para darnos las gracias por el trabajo que habíamos hecho. Todos rezamos juntos, cantamos juntos y bendecimos sus nuevas casas. Nos trajeron regalos y cestas con frutas, significó mucho para mí, porque estas personas lo habían perdido todo… ¡todo! Y todavía encuentran la manera de expresar su agradecimiento hacia nosotros trayéndonos muestras de aprecio.

Este viaje es una experiencia que cambia la vida. Siempre es una bendición poder ver cómo otras personas viven en otras partes del mundo, de manera que siempre mantengo lo que es importante en perspectiva. El pueblo haitiano pudo haber perdido sus posesiones físicas, pero no cambió lo que son, su amor por los demás y su amor por su país. Haití estará para siempre en mí y oro por los que conocí mientras estuve allí. Con las casas que hemos construido juntos, mano a mano, espero haber dejado una huella positiva en sus corazones y a como ellos la han dejado en la mío.

Nailah Ellis Timberlake
Nueva York, EE.UU

 

“Haiti will forever be in me”

I recently returned from Haiti as part of the first Habitat for Humanity team sent to start rebuilding since the 7.0 earthquake hit the country on January 12th, 2010. The land that we were constructing on had been where many displaced families had set up their tents after the earthquake.

The community members told us stories about how they lost everything when the earthquake hit and how they couldn’t stay where they were and picked up what was left of their belonging and started walking until they found some land to set up their tents on.

Once the plan for the neighborhood had been established, they were moved to the other side of the road so that Habitat could clear the land and start constructing.

This is my sixth Habitat build and I’m never prepared for the things I see. Everyday we drove through their neighborhood and all you could see were rows and rows of tattered tents. As someone who works in the news business and followed the story closely for over a year, I was still unprepared for what I saw. All of the ‘aid’ that we sent hadn’t done much to help the people who survived the storm.

A year a half later, families were still in tents, still had no clean, running water and there were large amounts of debris that still had yet to be cleared. It reminded me of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. On one of my trips down there, we were gutting houses and piles of debris remained on the streets for months.

I also had the impression that the tents that were sent to the Haitian people after the earthquake were providing a livable, safe shelter for those who were displaced, but one look at the ‘tent cities’ made it obvious that this was not the case. One of the community members explained that the tents don’t keep out the rain when there’s a storm. It rains quite often in Haiti and the tents would flood and be unsafe for people to stay in.

Then there’s the unbearable heat; the tents get so hot that it’s impossible to stay inside of them on most days so they didn’t provide much shelter to anyone. These tents that were supposed to provide relief are actually unlivable for the people that they’re supposed to help.

During a town hall style meeting that we had with the community, I got very emotional hearing their stories and seeing how they’ve perservered through it all. One of the woman used a translator to tell me that, “Mwen renmen-li anpil..Mwen sent-li andan po mwen” which translated to “I like her a lot. I feel her in my skin.” This bond we created grew over the week that I was there. She showed me her home (tent) and introduced me to her son. We chatted everyday on the work site and she brought me a watermelon to show me that she appreciated me being there.

Interacting with the community and working alongside future homeowners renewed my team’s commitment to get the two houses completely built as quickly as possible. We were successful in our goal to have two houses constructed before we left and after we finished building on the last day, the community members came over to the finished houses to surprise us with a going away party and to thank us for the work that we doing. We all prayed together, sang together and blessed their new homes. They brought us gifts and baskets of fruit and it meant so much to me because these people had lost everything… everything! And they still found a way to express their thanks to us and bring us tokens of appreciation.

This trip was a life changing experience. It’s always a blessing to be able to see how other people live in other parts of the world so that I always keep what’s important in perspective. The Haitian people may have lost physical possessions, but it didn’t change who they were, their love for one another and their love for their country. Haiti will forever be in me and I pray for those that I met while I was there. With the houses that I built side by side, hand in hand, I hope that I’ve left a positive mark in their hearts and as they’ve left in mine.
 
Nailah Ellis Timberlake
New York, U.S.A.

La historia de Patty

Patty de Arcia, una chica “común” de El Salvador, preparó las maletas para viajar a Haití. ¿Cómo lo logró? Recaudando fondos de sus amigos, familiares, conocidos y desconocidos, para que a esas personas tuvieron la misma oportunidad que ella de unirse a la causa.

Volver a Voces de Haití

Patty’s story

Patty de Arcia, a “regular” girl from El Salvador, packed her bags and traveled to Haiti to help rebuild after the 2010 earthquake. How did she do it? By raising funds from friends, family, colleagues and strangers, so that they could have the same opportunity that she did to support the cause.

Return to Voices from Haiti

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The following is an interview with Luis Sandoval, who has worked with numerous short-term work teams with Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica. Luis shares his thoughts on the value of volunteers, what volunteerism means to Habitat, a very “Habitat” experience, and more.

Why is volunteerism important?

Volunteerism is the human expression of affection towards other, and the certainty that by taking action we make a difference in the world. A volunteer is an agent of change, who acts and motivates others to take action, to get involved.

Volunteerism is the opportunity to be part of an act of solidarity; it’s the opportunity to dedicate ourselves to others who we feel are in need of support.

Why is it important to Habitat’s mission?

It’s an engine, through which people get involved in Habitat’s idea—until this idea begins to become real. It supports and validates what we do. It tells us that it’s worth it, that there are people who share this idea and believe that the idea deserves their energy.

Volunteers motivate others to act or, in the least, it motivates people to think on the subject. Parter families are motivated and full of hope, and gain confidence that they too can collaborate. I have seen many families wear the face of, “I can’t believe it… all of these people came to help me build my house.” It’s an expression of surprise that spontaneously breaks into one of sincere happiness and gratitude. Volunteerism, and the volunteers themselves, are the human side of Habitat for Humanity. They are the element that ensures that humanity is the central theme of our idea.

Volunteers motivate the community; they teach it, help it to reflect. Many times, especially in rural areas, the community is fascinated with volunteers. Volunteers are a community event. They motivate the builders, who receive payment for work that is often carried out under difficult conditions—and the difference in their work and their emotional state is palpable. 

Volunteers motivate the coordinators, beyond the difficult logistics and, sometimes, tough cultural barriers. Volunteers help us to be better people, every day.

What is the difference between short-term and long-term volunteerism?

Short-term volunteerism lends itself to very specific, and sometimes reduced, tasks. In our case, short-term volunteers are a great help in construction. Long-term volunteers are more versatile and are a great resource as well. Long-term volunteerism enriches the organization with committed individuals who have experience in the field that they are working.

What has been one of your most memorable volunteer experiences?

We were recently working with a family in San Isidro de Perez Zeledón. They had just received a government subsidy, which Habitat had helped them to apply for, and their house was under construction. Don Mario, the head of the household, had suffered a stroke a year and a half prior, which had slowed down the process. He has been bed-ridden since the stroke, can talk very little, and movement is very difficult for him—moving mostly just his arms. He is unable to walk.

When the volunteers arrived, however, Don Mario was surprisingly communicative. He managed to converse with the volunteers and sit upright in a wheel chair—even to pose for a group photo.

We are planning for another volunteer team to build on Don Mario’s home, and the family has insisted that when the group arrives they go straight to their house for a Sunday coffee, to get to know the volunteers before they start building. The family was previously living in a small, improvised room within the same property. They are motivated and willing to participate, and wish to keep moving forward.

Leer esta entrada en español

I am Patrick Thompson, an international volunteer from Vancouver, Canada. For the past six months I have had the opportunity to serve as Volunteer Coordinator with Habitat for Humanity Argentina (HFHA). In this capacity I work as a volunteer, helping to recruit, train, and integrate other volunteers into the programs & priorities of a busy NGO. What began as an idea over a year ago morphed into a reality last June when my plane touched down in Buenos Aires.

“Why travel across the globe to volunteer”, one might ask (and many have!). For me it was an instinct – a strong desire to contribute my motivation and skills towards a cause that I believe in: community volunteerism. The inspiration for my role with HPHA stemmed from my own experience volunteering with Habitat in New Orleans, working side- by-side with volunteers of every conceivable age and stage. Not unlike myself, many were stepping outside of their comfort zone, spirited by a collective feeling that individual actions can matter.  My goal was to channel this powerful feeling into an organizational capacity.

Arriving in Argentina I was quickly made aware that this spirit of volunteerism, while alive and well in Habitat for Humanity Argentina, was somewhat of a nascent concept in the country. With this in mind my first task was to help the organization expand their local reach with the introduction of a new volunteer program. Through weekly meetings and training sessions, month after month, I came to realize that the spirit was more dormant than missing. With modest encouragement, local volunteers began stepping forward to assert their own instincts and develop their own roles within the community improvement projects of HPHA. Each step, while small and gradual, has revealed a much larger footprint.

As we continue to build the volunteer program in Argentina I feel quite privileged to be the point person at HPHA for the thoughtful curiosities of the potential volunteer. I receive emails on a daily basis from individuals around the corner, and around the world, each looking to participate in some form of progress. These messages encourage me about my own mandate, and remind me of the avalanche of interest that lays waiting for a call to action. My hope is that community volunteerism will continue to grow in places like Argentina, where the needs are so strong and the opportunities for action so present.

Patrick Thompson
Community Mobilization
Habitat for Humanity Argentina

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Kelsey Halena has been a volunteer in Costa Rica since September, and for the next six months will continue in her role as International Volunteer Program Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. In the following post, Kelsey offers a unique glimpse into life away from home.

Using Technology without Apology
Last night, I was on Facebook chatting with a friend about how people were doing back home in Minnesota. At the same time, my dad sent me a message on Skype asking how my day at work has been. After dinner, I called another friend on iChat for some face-to-face (in the technological sense) conversation. Needless to say, I am not too disconnected from my friend’s and family’s lives back home. Now, I know that some people might say that this is taking away from my experience here in Costa Rica – that I am spending time talking to friends that could be spent exploring Costa Rica. But it has also kept me from being homesick, and in some cases made me realize how happy I am to be here rather than back home. While my friends seem to do the same activities week in and week out, I am given this once in a lifetime opportunity. So in the evening, I’m able to choose from the many means of communication available at my fingertips and connect with anyone, whether they are in Minnesota or California. While it doesn’t beat being with friends and family in person, it is certainly quicker and more convenient than the hand-written letters that my mom had to use to stay in communication with her family when living in Sweden. She likes to remind me of the convenience of technology. Often. Usually via Skype.

Time Keeps on Ticking
As I stood in my new bedroom in San Jose, Costa Rica on September 4th, I wondered how I had thought I was going to be able to handle nine months here. That seemed like such a long time; so much that would pass and I would miss. Now, as I think about my last two and a half months, I wonder where that time has gone. How can I be nearly one-third done with my trip already? I still have so much to do, so many places to go. And those trips that my friends and family are making to Costa Rica that seemed so far away? I better get booking those hotels for them, because it’s right around the corner. The evenings that are filled with dinner and conversations with my host family are adding up. Even the seemingly uneventful evenings of staying home are melting together to create a chuck of time that has already been accounted for. So I intend to make the most of every weekend. To go to the amazing places that I’m not sure I’ll ever see again. Because time isn’t going to end, but this trip will. So when I’m back to enduring the cold Minnesota winter, I’ll be able to think of those fabulous days in San Jose when I could wear shorts and t-shirts in November.

What I Thought I Needed
Call it lack of funds, call it lack of access to stores – or a fine combination of the two that keeps me from purchasing things I don’t need. But since I’ve arrived in San Jose, I’ve found that the objects I found ‘necessary’ in Minnesota are anything but. Those 30 t-shirts I had in a drawer so full it couldn’t be shut? I’m getting along equally fine with the five I fit into my one suitcase. How about three of the same pair of shoe in different colors? The one pair I brought along is holding up. So, why do I feel the need to have all of this unnecessary clutter at home, if all I REALLY need can fit into one suitcase? Sure, there are times when I wish I had decided to pack the hair dryer. Or a book that I’m really wanting to read and can see right where it’s sitting on my shelf. For the most part my lack of objects has lead to increased simplicity in my life, and an easier decision making process. After all, how hard can it be to decide what to pack for the weekend when everything you own can fit into two bags?  I have all the essentials and nothing else to clutter my life.

Always Open, Always On
In the past, after work I have found it typical to head home, turn on the TV and turn everything else off – including my mind. Before coming to Costa Rica I was a nanny for a 1- 3- and 5-year old. This certainly drained all energy out of me, and when I came home I wanted to just be able to shut my eyes and clear my head for a while. My job with Habitat for Humanity is drastically different, requiring instead that I am in an office for the day, often sitting at a computer. Although my body isn’t as active as it was while nannying, my mind certainly isn’t getting a rest. Between Spanish e-mails, phone calls and conversations surrounding me, I am introduced to a new office, new co-workers and new methods. And at the end of the day, my brain doesn’t shut off like I so badly want it to sometimes. On a simple 15 minute walk home, I observe and discover new things every day. The patterns of traffic, the schedules of others, the environment… things change every day between my office and my house, tiny details I would never take the time to notice in Minnesota. Once home, I am greeted by my host mom who has spent her day cleaning and cooking dinner in preparation for her family’s arrival. Something that certainly took getting used to (although I can’t say it was ever difficult to do)! But until I close my eyes at the end of the day, my brain is a constant receptor, taking in everything that crosses my path. Which makes for a great nights sleep.

I am Capable
There have been a number of times where I thought I couldn’t possibly go to the mechanic alone because I didn’t know what to tell him about my car. Or when I didn’t do something as measly as going on a trip by myself for the weekend because I didn’t believe that I could do the planning and I was nervous that I would get lost or do something wrong. That’s the beauty of being thrown in the middle of a foreign country. It’s fight or flight. And if my decision had been flight, I would have been right back where I started without even getting my feet wet. So, fight it was. As it turns out, I’ve got a little more of a feisty, ready to rumble spirit in me than I thought. I am comfortable with weekend planning, a new job a new family, a new country. I can’t help but feel a little more independent every time I finish another weekend excursion. But it’s certainly not just the weekend getaways. Thankfully, capability sticks around seven days a week, ensuring me that with common sense and confidence I’ll be able to keep fighting the good fight.

Poas Volcano | Costa Rica

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“You don’t have to travel half-way across the world in order to make a difference. Many of the issues that one would see in another country can also be found in his or her own backyard.”

My name is Charles Adams and I would like to share my volunteer experience with you. On March 18th, 2009, I arrived to Asuncion, Paraguay. As soon as I set foot onto the Paraguayan soil, I immediately knew that my life would change…for the better of course.

In January of 2008, I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Ghana with my alma mater, Elon University. While in Ghana, I was introduced to some of the appalling conditions that exist in the world. I also gained an understanding of how strong people could be.

When I returned from Ghana, I told myself that I had to go back to Africa, should I be provided with another opportunity. About a month later, my sister Catherine approached me and asked if I wanted to go with her on a mission trip to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. I immediately said YES, without getting any of the details…or even asking my parents.

Those trips, along with my personal interests, led me to the concept of volunteering and offering my time to others. When I decided that I wanted to volunteer, I also knew that I wanted to spend time abroad. I have always had a passion for traveling and getting to know other cultures; doing this enables a person to become well-rounded and opens his or her mind to new possibilities.

I searched the Internet like I was on a mission. Eventually, I came upon Habitat for Humanity and learned about the International Volunteer Program. Afterwards, I sent a great deal of emails trying to find out more about the position, what I would be doing and to determine if volunteering was what I really wanted. After much consideration, I later decided that I had taken the right steps and doing the right thing.

For my entire life, I’ve been willing and eager to extend a hand to those in need. I know that I have been privileged to do a lot of things in my life while others, unfortunately, have not been so lucky. Just walking to the kitchen, grabbing a cold glass of water from the fridge and drinking it is an everyday task that appears simple. It’s not, and we often take this for granted.

I was called to come here to Paraguay and be a long-term volunteer with the Global Village Program. I am the Volunteer Mobilization Assistant, and help plan, organize, and implement the trip logistics for international and national volunteers. Because there are two of us in Paraguay, we are able to split the work load, and I can focus primarily on the international volunteers. We speak with the team leader(s) of each group and find out what they would like to do with their time here. Then, taking their preferences into account, we make the day-to-day plans for their trip.

Being a part of this program has been very exciting. I have been able to make friends from all over the world. I now have friends in Ireland, Australia, Paraguay and North America.

My time here has taught me how to survive on my own and has given me a new-profound confidence. I have been able make a home from nothing. Granted, this process is done easily when you are surrounded by wonderful people who open their arms and homes to you. If you are from the U.S., you might be coined as the Yankee, Gringo, Americano, Norte Americano, Extranjero that lives in the neighborhood. The people here have been incredibly friendly and warm, enabling me to fully enjoy my time here.

Right now I am in the process of arranging my plans for the coming year. My time here has been so great that I’ve decided to come back and work in the country for another year. Accordingly, I’ve had to invest time in writing emails to companies and talking with various people about possible vacancies. Through this process, I have had to apply the skills that I learned in college about business, but adapting to my current surroundings. Meaning I have done all of this in a second language. I now know that if I can go to various businesses and inquire about positions and be interviewed in Spanish, when I eventually get back home and have interviews, I shouldn’t worry. If I can do this in a second language then doing an interview in my native tongue should be a breeze!

Before I continue, know that when I say that these people “open their homes to every person” …they literally open their front door. More specifically, they open their kitchen. YOU CANNOT go to someone’s house without entering their kitchen and having something to eat. It does not matter if you just ate, or if you’re planning to eat an hour later, you are going to eat. When they ask you if you want something, it is not really a question, it is more of a demand; you are going to eat the empanada like your life depended on it. You can’t be rude and deny the request. So, when you go home and your friends and family happen to notice that your face is a little thicker and you have a new hole on your belt, don’t worry! You have an excuse. All you have to say is that you were taking part in the culture and you did not want to be perceived as rude or ignorant.

Not only have I made new friends and increased my confidence, but I’ve also learned how to truly live and appreciate the things that I have. I’ve spent an entire year with just the bare necessities, and nothing more. You soon learn that in the end, you survive. For example, having gone a year without Subway, or all-you-can-eat chips at Chili’s, air conditioning, or watching any of the NFL football season has been tough, but I’ve gotten by. Knowing that my team (the Washington Redskins) has had a horrific season, the burn is not as bad as it could be. Either way, a true fan wants to watch his or her team play, even if they lose. An important lesson that I have learned is as follows: don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about having all the things that you have. Embrace it, be thankful for it, and then do what you can to give back.

When I think about my time here, I think particularly about a group that we had here in July, when we hosted three Global Village groups at the same time–a logistical nightmare. We had to make a ridiculous amount of plans, taking into account every detail. Luckily, we were able to arrange for all the groups to work on the same construction site. In total, there were 31 people from Ireland (17), Canada (12), and Australia (2). I can honestly say that not one second of time was lost with these groups; there was also something going on that caught your attention. 

Then again, when you are looking after 31 people (some of which were three times my age), something is always going on. We worked in Itapúa, Paraguay and constructed eight houses in only five days. I chose this group from Ireland because they were very unique. Within the group of 17, only eight were actually from Ireland. The others came from  Spain, Zimbabwe, Poland, South Africa, Moldova, Austria, Vietnam, Romania and Italy. The leader of the team, Fergus McCabe, runs an organization that helps the at-risk youth in Ireland and many of those from the countries listed above are helping Fergus with his work.

Throughout the week, the group became best friends. To keep things fresh and to bring taste of Ireland to Paraguay, Fergus and some of “the boys” brought their guitars and mandolins with them. There was literally a concert every night at the hotel, a new song always brought to the table. In the week’s time, we had sung The Boxer, Take Me Home (Country Road), American Pie, The Galway Girl, Whiskey in the Jar, You Are Not Alone, Let It Be…the list goes on.

In addition to singing songs (and oh yeah…building houses) we played several soccer matches. Most of these matches took place inside a gym, each game involving its own story.

Should anyone be interested in volunteering, please keep in mind that you don’t have to travel half-way across the world in order to make a difference. Many of the issues that one would see in another country can also be found in his or her own back yard.

I would imagine that if you drive around your city, you would see poverty, homelessness and people starving in the streets. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, have food on the table every day, and have someone to love us and to take care of us. Volunteering is something that you should do on your own, when you expect to receive nothing in return.

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Paraguay has been a remarkable experience and I hope that those of you who are reading (if you are still with me) will consider doing the same thing in the future. The memories, the friends and the experience is worth every minute and dime spent. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and good luck to you all in your future endeavors!

Blessings from the heart of South America,

Charles (Carlos) Adams.

Leer esta entrada en español

“In the organization, there is always a space to share your talents and to demonstrate love and solidarity.”

Diana SandovalSince July of 2009, 21-year-old Colombian volunteer Diana Sandoval has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity Chile’s “Bring our Children Home” project and Leadership School.

For Diana, her experience as a volunteer has been impactful–particularly getting to know children with life threatening illnesses, as well as the committee leaders who have been laboring for years to improve their housing conditions. In witnessing their needs, their potentials and their willingness to press on, Diana has become deeply committed to the two projects.

“Family is fundamental to these children,” she explains. “It’s where they receive the basis of their emotional life and affections. It’s fundamental to their wellbeing that they receive the support of every one of their family members.”

In the Leadership School, “Every workshop is an achievement, a dialogue of advice. It’s gratifying to see how the leaders participate and reflect upon their family finance administration habits. Through this experience, each person contributes something important and useful for everyday life, in this way developing saving habits that allow them to reach their future housing goals. One of the most important aspects  is that each participant commits to replicate what they have learned and share it in turn with an average of 30 people in their community.”

Diana invites other volunteers from the region to unite with this cause. “It’s a marvelous experience,” she concludes. “In the organization, there is always a space to share your talents and to demonstrate love and solidarity.”

Source: Habitat for Humanity Chile

To learn more about projects in Chile, please visit http://www.habitat.org/intl/lac/45.aspx.

Español

The work week has finished. The last day we went to work with the community carrying limestone blocks from the main street of the town to one of the houses where they are constructing a second floor to improve their quality of life by creating more living space for all of the members of the family. Due to the smallness of the sites and because in reality they don’t have precisely defined land, the inside spaces and the building itself seems unusual because they may be trapezoid shaped perimeters. After several loads of blocks with the help of carts and even a donkey, we had enough to start stacking them up where the construction workers were preparing the lines for the walls.

The owner of the house is a widow who lives there with her two sons, their wives and children. She, like all the women in the houses who worked previously, runs from side to side trying to find something to do and that can help the volunteers standing in the extreme sun and heat. After an hour and a half of work she came back with a tray of fresh tea. As much as we wanted to continue with our work, we couldn’t refuse and stopped to take the tea. Only then could we resume the work.

After several loads of blocks were brought in by donkey carts, several of us formed a human chain of about 15 people to lift the limestone blocks one by one for the walls of the apartments being build on the second floor. At 12:30 pm we stopped to go to the Association offices to have lunch prepared by the Cleopatra Hotel in boxes decorated by a loop. With this detail I want to recognize the excellent treatment than we have all had by everyone involved in our stay in Ed Minia, especially Christine Postma and the assistant sheriff.

At 2:30pm we again took a the long road that leads to Cairo. Our bus took us through fields of sugarcane, cabbage, cotton, sunflowers and other products. Farmers in their long robes and turbans bend their backs to plant grain or open the furrows. After coming from Beni Suef all that accompanies us is the desert. The communities, strands that intertwine and make up this admirable ancient culture, have lagged behind but now also travel with each one of us in the impact they’ve had on our hearts forever.

On Saturday night alter an exhausting day of visiting the most emblematic places in Cairo we tried to prepare our minds for the inevitable goodbyes to the recent friends we met but with whom we’ve shared this very intense experience and with who we have become so intimate with. We gathered around a table, 11 completely different people, never again the same as we were about a week ago. We share how we feel, the excellent experience that we have with everyone, but especially if they will participate after this trip. Each one is greatly moved to continue their commitment to the cause of those most in need of an adequate place to live, and consider this trip a success. We melt into hugs, expressing our desire to stay in contact and especially thanked all of those who joined us in Egypt. Shukran gazeelan!

Group

 Special thanks to volunteer Kelsey Halena for translating!

Español

Hello from Mynia Egypt again!  The second construction day is over. Our team has shared different moments and places since we started our construction.  We have been assigned to many work sites, and have divided into small groups because the streets in the community are very narrow, making them hard to access for people, materials and tools.

We were constantly being rotated from one work site to another throughout the day.  We are very happy to provide volunteer labor in many places, given the fact that Habitat for Humanity Egypt is serving multiple families in this community.

Most of the families have been living in crowded conditions. Several families might live in one house.  In Egyptian culture, the animals they use for work or grow to eat also live within the same household, creating poor sanitary conditions–especially for the children.

We met some members of a local organization that has partnered with Habitat Egypt for around two years, called  “Shining Tomorrow.”  Their local members in charge of family selection. Families usually apply for a housing micro-credit to use for home improvements or renovation, or to build a second floor in the house where they already live in order to create privacy for each one of the families within the same property.

We have been pleasantly surprised with the number of people from all ages that gather around this group of foreigners who has come from the other side of the world to build with families in the community. Children are the most persistent and curious of them all… even when they are asked to stay away from the work site, they keep coming to see some more.  They come to us with whatever English words they know, trying to communicate. They always ask, “what’s your name,” and then tell us theirs immediately after.  Obviously, after 10 or 15 names I can’t remember the first one. :)

Pictures of the communities and its daily activities are taken every five minutes by us–but they are taking pictures of us too, which tells me they too want to keep the memories of our time in their lives.

Upon closure of our second day of construction, we take our tools and started to leave, already planning for the next day. Nevertheless, a whisper in my mind was telling me, “you’re waving good bye to all these friendly people and you just realized you’ll never see them again, because we will be building in another community far away from this one tomorrow.”  My eyes start watering, but then I think I better get myself together because I don’t want to cause a commotion in the group. Tomorrow we will be in another community in as much or more need than the one we leave today, and Habitat’s volunteers will come to more homes and touch more lives.

See you again soon, friends.  Pics follow…hope you enjoy!

 

Lemons

 

Family

 

More sand!

Read previous posts from Mitssy’s trip to Egypt in the category Voices.

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