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Sobrevivir a lo peor (English below)

El 12 de enero del 2010, cuando se dio el terremoto, Eunide Eugene tenía cuatro meses de embarazo. Estaba en su casa en Léogâne, cuando ésta se derrumbó sobre ella, atrapándola bajo los escombros.

“Casi morí aquel día”, recordó. “Todo mundo –mis amigos y vecinos –creyeron que yo había muerto. Pero dos personas me sacaron de entre los escombros. Gracias a Dios, el bebé estuva bien”.

En Santo, Eugene se unió a cientos de sus nuevos vecinos que quedaron sin hogar. Más de un año y medio después sigue viviendo allí, cuidando a sus cuatro hijos, a tres sobrinos y a su abuela de 79 años –todos en el mismo albergue de emergencia.

Cada semana ella viaja en un “tap-tap”, uno de los comunes “buses” privados haitianos  – que a menudo son pickups destartalados-, al pueblo de Malpasse, cerca de la frontera con República Dominicana, para comprar perfumes, cosméticos y productos de belleza. Los lleva a las abarrotadas calles de Puerto Príncipe, para venderlos a crédito a los vendedores ambulantes. Los miércoles, regresa para cobrar sus humildes ganancias.

El albergue actual de Eugene es terriblemente pequeño para las nueve personas que viven allí.

“No tenemos a dónde ir”, dijo ella. “No tenemos dinero, no tenemos nada”. Una nueva vivienda, dice, ayudará muchísimo a su familia, brindándoles un lugar seguro y adecuado donde vivir y dormir.

Eunide Eugene
Léogane, Haití

Surviving the worst

Eunide Eugene was four months pregnant on January 12, 2010, when the earthquake struck. She was at home in Léogâne, and the concrete house collapsed on top of her, pinning her in the debris.

“I almost died that day,” she recalled. “Everybody—my friends and neighbors—thought I had died. But two people pulled me out. Thank God the baby was OK.”

Eugene joined hundreds of her now-homeless neighbors in Santo. More than a year and a half later, she still lives there, supporting her four children, three nephews and her 79-yearold grandmother, all of whom live in one shelter.

Every week she catches a tap-tap, one of the ubiquitous privately owned Haiti “buses”—frequently just dilapidated pickup trucks—to the town of Malpasse, near the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic, and buys cosmetics, perfume and beauty supplies. She takes them to the teeming streets of Port-au-Prince, and sells them on credit to the sidewalk vendors there. On Wednesdays, she returns to collect her modest profits.

Eugene’s current shelter is painfully small for the nine people who live there.

“We have nowhere else to go,” she said. “We don’t have money, and we don’t have anything else.” The new house, she said, will help her family a great deal, giving them a simple, decent place to live and sleep.

Eunide Eugene
Léogane, Haiti

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

“For me the experience has been invaluable. Although, working in the office, I’m not directly working with families or building homes,  I’ve found it fulfilling to be able to help out behind the scenes  and allow the team here to get out into the field and do what they do best: coordinating construction, supporting families, coordinating and hosting  volunteers.”

I had never volunteered before. I had thought about it, but was always too busy with work and life getting in the way. But when I recently gave all that up and had the opportunity to move to Costa Rica I realized that this would be my chance to get involved with some type of NGO. I also selfishly thought it would be a great way to learn about the country outside the isolated ex-pat community we had moved into.

For me the experience has been invaluable. Although, working in the office, I’m not directly working with families or building homes,  I’ve found it fulfilling to be able to help out behind the scenes  and allow the team here to get out into the field and do what they do best: coordinating construction, supporting families, coordinating and hosting  volunteers. 

I’m inspired by the Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica staff and the work they are doing.  They are so dedicated to the cause, so interested in the families they are helping and so determined to find new ways to bring hope to people it’s contagious and I’m learning that the rewards are so much more gratifying than the ever changing bottom line of the corporate world I came from.

Besides all of that, my Spanish is improving. I’ve learned a lot about Costa Rican culture and continue to learn more about the country and the people every day.

I’m grateful to be part of organization with such a spirit of generosity, kindness and such high levels energy and engagement from Habitat staff and supporters.

Christine Rothdram
Costa Rica

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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“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.


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!






More sand!

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


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