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“With the world population having surpassed seven billion this year, we must tap every person’s potential to help others. Everyone can make a difference. Volunteering matters.”
- United Nations Secretary General BAN Ki-moon
This year, some 13,900 people volunteered at Habitat for Humanity construction sites in Latin America and the Caribbean. 1,700 more participated in non-construction activities, such as advocacy and training. Of the more than 15,000 volunteers in the region, 10,400 were local—Latin American and Caribbean citizens lending a hand in their own communities.
Around the world, the spirit and solidarity of volunteerism is spreading. Young people are seeking ways to support their communities and ensure a better future for themselves and their children. Business people are responding to the call for Corporate Social Responsibility, organizing volunteer teams to help improve the communities where their businesses are located. Families are organizing to mutually help one another and better the neighborhood. Retired adults are joining social causes, leading with their wisdom and experience.
The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (IVD) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 December 1985. Since then, governments, the UN system and civil society organizations have successfully joined volunteers around the world to celebrate the Day on December 5 (worldvolunteerweb.org).
However, the true importance of celebrating International Volunteer Day today, is what happens tomorrow. Improving the lives of families around the world is a 365-day a year task. Local and international volunteers are stepping to help.
In Haití, we heard voices of solidarity…
In México, we hear them…
In the Dominican Republic as well…
And you… What will you build?
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.
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.
Americus, Georgia, U.S.A.
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.
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.
Después de un año en el campamento (English below)
“Pensé que había perdido a dos de mis hijos. Estaban dentro de la casa cuando esta colapsó”, dijo Chrisler Oibrice de 40 años y padre de cinco: Chrislanda de 14 años; Blondy de 6; Betina de 6; Féguer de 3; y Frantzo de 18 meses.
“Mi esposa y yo estábamos preparando algo para cenar, mientras Chrislanda, Blondy y Bettina jugaban afuera. Cuando comenzó el terremoto, tomé a mi esposa y salimos rápidamente sin tener tiempo de poder buscar a Féguer y a Frantzo”. Gracias a Dios ambos chicos sobrevivieron al desastre.
Con su casa en ruinas, Olibrice recogió todas los pedazos de latas, madera y plástico que encontró para construir un albergue para él y su familia. “Fue difícil vivir dentro del albergue, especialmente cuando llovía”, dijo. “Pasamos noches enteras despiertos”.
La familia pasó más de un año viviendo en este albergue inseguro, en un campamento de emergencia.
“Un día, un representante de Hábitat se acercó y nos dijo que nuestra condición era crítica”, dijo Olibrice. “Le expliqué que estábamos esperando un bebé, y que no sabíamos ni donde ni cómo íbamos a cuidar a este nuevo miembro de la familia”.
Hoy, Olibrice y su familia viven en un alojamiento temporal de Hábitat. Es una de las 1.250 familias que han recibido alojamientos en Cabaret, Haití, gracias al apoyo de la Agencia de EE.UU para la Oficina de Desarrollo Internacional de Asistencia ante Desastres, a través de un sub-financiamiento de “Servicios Católicos de Consuelo” (Catholic Relief Services), el Comité Metodista Unido para Ayuda (United Methodist Committee on Relief) y la colaboración de la Misión Bautista Afroamericana (African-American Baptist Mission Collaboration).
Para hacerse cargo de su familia, Olibrice trabaja diariamente en sus cultivos. Su esposa, Dieutane Joseph, de 40 años, vende lo que producen y otros productos que puedan generar un pequeño ingreso. “Hábitat lo hizo posible, y esta es nuestra mayor bendición del año”, dijo Olibrice. “No sé qué nos proveerá Dios para el futuro, pero lo único que sé es que mi esposa y yo podremos mandar a Chrislanda, a Blondy y a Bettina a la escuela en octubre”.
After a year in the tent camp
“I thought I lost two of my boys. They were inside when our house collapsed,” said Chrisler Olibrice, 40, father of five children: Chrislanda, 14; Blondy, 6; Bettina, 5; Féguer, 3; and Frantzo, 18 months.
“My wife and I were preparing something for dinner. Chrislanda, Blondy and Bettina were playing outside. When the earthquake struck, I grabbed my wife, and we jumped outside without having time to take Féguer and Frantzo.” Thankfully, both boys survived the earthquake.
With his home in ruins, Olibrice gathered up all the metal sheeting, wood and plastic material he could find to build a shelter for his family. “It was hard to live inside it, especially when it rained,” he said. “We spent entire nights awake.”
The family spent more than a year living in their unsafe shelter and surrounding shanty.
“One day, a Habitat surveyor came to me and said that our condition was critical,” Olibrice said. “I explained to him we were expecting a baby, and we didn’t know where or how we were going to take care of this new child in our family.”
Today, Olibrice and his family live in a Habitat transitional shelter. They are one of 1,250 families to receive a shelter in Cabaret thanks to the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development Office for Disaster Assistance through a subgrant from Catholic Relief Services, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and the African-American Baptist Mission Collaboration.
To take care of his family, each day Olibrice tends his crops. His wife, Dieutane Joseph, 40, sells what their plot of land produces and other things that can bring in some money. “Habitat made it happen, and this is our biggest luck of the year,” Olibrice said. “I don’t know what God will provide us for the future, but the only thing I know is my wife and I will send Chrislanda, Blondy and Bettina to school in October.”
“Estoy usando mi voz” (English below)
Frantzyse Erisma, de 28 años, es la coordinadora general de la Asociación de Solidaridad de Mujeres, un grupo que ha sido instrumental para el trabajo de Hábitat para la Humanidad en la comunidad de Santo. Erisma y sus hijas, de 6 y 7 años, son una de las familias que se mudarán de tiendas de emergencia a viviendas permanentes después del Proyecto Carter.
“Esta vivienda es muy importante para nuestra familia”, dijo Erisma. “Cuando uno ya tiene casa, solo le pueden suceder cosas buenas. Esto es muy importante”.
La casa que Erisma alquilaba se destruyó con el terremoto de enero de 2011. Ella y sus dos hijas vivieron temporalmente en una carpa de emergencia, luego se pasaron a vivir a una casa de una habitación en Léogâne mientras esperan la construcción de su nueva vivienda en Santo.
“Soy una mujer fuerte, y estoy aquí para ayudar a Hábitat y a la comunidad”, dijo. “Estoy usando mi voz”.
“I am using my voice”
Frantzyse Erisma, 28, is the general coordinator of the Association of Women’s Solidarity, a group that has been instrumental in Habitat’s for Humanity’s work in Santo. Erisma and her daughters, ages 6 and 7, also are among the families who will be moving from tents into permanent homes after the Carter Work Project.
“This house is very important for our family,” Erisma said. “As soon as you have a house, good things can happen for you. This is very important.”
Erisma’s rented house was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. She and her daughters lived in a tent for a while, but since have moved into a one-room house in Léogâne while they wait for their house to be built in Santo.
“I’m a strong woman, and I’m here to support Habitat and the community,” she said. “I’m using my voice.
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 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
By Francisco Leguizamón, D.B.A.
A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Bernardo Klisberg speak, a Latin American citizen who, along with Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 1998, wrote the book “First the People.” The book examines the problems of the globalized world based on the ethics of development. As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica, I was interested to hear the words of an expert in the subject and to share this with my colleagues. I think that everyone who attended was not only impressed but highly motivated to promote volunteerism in all its possible forms.
Indeed, during the conference, Klisberg made a sincere argument for volunteerism in Latin America. His statements, conclusions and recommendations weren’t rhetorical, but research-based and carefully developed. He continued with a brief comment about something he called, “The Seven Theses on Volunteerism in Latin America.” Klisberg began by positioning us in front of an apparent paradox regarding volunteers. “If they have no economic incentives, nor influence in the market, what can we expect of them? In the view of the most orthodox economists, what we can expect will be marginal and, by definition, almost entirely inefficient.”
From this statement, he proposed a way to resolve the paradox through a lucid, powerful, inviting, unconventional role of volunteerism in Latin America, and its contribution to development.
Volunteerism is a major producer of goods and social services. It is estimated that in Latin America there are one million organizations supported by volunteer work, acting in different fields: emergency services, basic necessities, environment, training, human rights, peace processes and more. The region, prone to frequent and varied conflict, is thus a fertile ground for volunteerism. In Brazil, the societal contribution from volunteerism exceeds 2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Recently, the president of Costa Rica, Dr. Oscar Arias, recognized the labor of Habitat for Humanity Costa Rica during the inauguration ceremony of the Drum Project. A contribution by Florida Beverages, coupled with over one thousand volunteers, helped to resolve the housing problem for the victims of the recent Cinchona earthquake.
Volunteerism is a builder of social capital. According to Albert Hischaman, the more social capital is used, the more it grows. In his words, “love or citizenship are not limited resources, or fixed, such as other factors of production. These are resources whose availability, far from diminishing, increases with employment.” Costa Rica in general, and Habitat for Humanity in specific, is a good demonstration of the ability of its people to respond with force and speed to their countrymen in situations of need.
It’s a fallacy to position government and volunteerism against each other. The state, by definition, is considered largely responsible for attention to social causes. Latin American history has taught us that this responsibility has not been sufficient for achieving the purpose of development. Countries that have achieved relatively greater levels of development present a model in which collaborative efforts between government institutions, civil society organizations and volunteer support contribute effectively to meeting development objectives. Klisberg expresses that the region must overcome the culture of false oppositions and mutual prejudices. Costa Rica is a good example of restraining this fallacy. The government responds in collaboration with volunteer organizations, dealing with problems like housing through projects in which they act as partners toward a common challenge.
Volunteerism is motivated by a strong force: the ethical commitment. Klisberg predicts that, “in a region such as Latin America, which has always been characterized as swarming with ideals, a spark can ignite them extensively… because the background environment is conducive.”
In a study by the University of Michigan, it was found that those who donate to a cause are 43% more likely to be considered happy than those who do not. Perhaps that’s why Costa Rica holds a privileged place among the happiest countries of the continent. That is the same appreciation of the personal satisfaction I have with both local and foreign volunteers who support the housing construction projects carried out by Habitat for Humanity.
There is an emerging new form of volunteerism, the volunteered building of citizenship and participation. Klisberg feels that volunteerism is at the forefront of the fight for expanded citizenship. “Experiences such as ‘Villa El Salvador’ in Peru are very encouraging. 350.000 people suffering from poverty used volunteer work to create an entire municipality. They built their streets, schools, health centers and highways on a self-management basis, and for the most part succeeded in improving basic living conditions. The ‘Volunteer of the Villa’ was decisive. Without the enormous amount of volunteer hours, the project would have been impossible.” As it consolidates and extends the experience, the Habitat projects point to the construction of a community that goes beyond the technical solution that provides decent housing.”
The achievements of volunteerism in Latin America have been recognizable, despite the fact that they are just beginning to emerge. While there is not yet the support for primary education levels that exists in other parts of the world, it is comforting to note the number and variety of nonprofit organizations whose results are based on volunteerism, and are contributing significantly in Latin America. The reader is probably familiar with at least a few in his or her own country, and perhaps already involved in one of them. While Costa Rica does not lag behind in growth, strengthening and diversity of solidarity activities increasingly occupy more time and energy of its inhabitants, particularly the younger generations.
Volunteerism has not yet said what it needs to say in Latin America. The words of Klisberg are at once inviting and challenging. We question, “Is it utopian to believe in volunteering?” And he responds: “No way. It is in the roots of the ethical and spiritual beliefs of Latin Americans,” and proposes a final example. “The Aymara, one of the oldest civilizations in the continent, distinguish between ‘welfare’, which means having material goods, and ‘good living’ which means to feel oneself by always opting for good and knowing that others see you as a ‘good person’. They argue that the welfare does not guarantee good living, but that this is a superior human state.” I believe that Habitat’s colleagues, and friends who volunteer with other organizations, can claim to live and work in collaboration with ‘good people’.
Incorporating, sharing and disseminating these new ideas and thoughts probably help us to overcome myths about volunteering, to facilitate the multiplication of volunteerism wherever it is needed, and to successfully overcome the barriers to our development as a region.
“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.