Arriving in Bucharest on September 18, 2008, I was immediately struck with the sense that I was seeing a country in transition – from decades of repression to preparing to fit into the requirement of being a member nation of the European Union (EU). Bucharest is quite a large city with a population of 2.2 million and it was the meeting point for our team. Two days later, the other folks arrived at the international airport, where we were met by Habitat host Alex and driver Adi. We then headed west to the city of Pitesti – our base for the next 11 days.
Most of our time was spent working on the exterior wall of the second new eight-unit block. Our work involved swinging hammers, pulling nails, measuring and cutting boards, installing chipboard and rigid insulation, spreading stucco, painting and many other tasks. Some of our existing skills were put to good use, while other times we learned how to do something entirely new such as building a scaffold and working with stucco. Each day was a new experience.
Every day we were joined at the site by at least two people from partner families along with one or two of their friends as well as local Habitat staff. One day we were joined by some high school students from Bucharest and on another day by about two dozen people from different locations in Romania who were employees of a bank.
While there was a language barrier at the site, it did not get in the way of our work as we were blessed to have Alex to provide excellent translation. Even with the language challenge, we worked well together and enjoyed many times of laughter amid the work. A lot can be communicated effectively with non-verbal expressions and a commitment to the same goal.
As we travelled to and from the project site and in other areas as part of the cultural experience, we didn't have to look far to see the significant need for decent basic housing. Sure, there are nice houses, but many people live in some form of sub-standard housing without running water and so many of the basic things we take for granted in Canada.
Global Village Zambia
Dear Global Village Department,
My name is Roderick Ingersoll and have just returned from a Global Village build in Usulutan, El Salvador. I have all my life wanted to do something for someone, somewhere else in the world, that would make a difference in their life. I have donated both my time and money in the past for such things as the Terry Fox Run, The Northern Alberta Make a Wish Foundation, The Canadian Heart and Stoke, The Canadian Cancer Society, The United way and have a sponsored child in Africa through World Vision and many other charities and causes. I knew that there was something else out there that was for me and I found it with Habitat for Humanity. My trip to El Salvador was by far the best trip I have ever been on in my life. I met 15 new friends from across Canada, experienced a new culture like never before and came away with a whole new outlook on life. I couldn't believe until I saw it with my own eyes that the people that we worked and lived with on our trip had so little, but were so happy for it. A simple smile and "hola" was always returned with a huge smile from the heart. The feeling of working with other Canadians who really care about other peoples lives in the world besides their own was a pleasure to have. The trip was well coordinated and was a great success, everyone came away with the same feeling.
Upon returning home, I experienced the biggest culture shock right here at home. We take 90% of life's pleasures for granted. I think that we have forgotten the valves of life, love, family and a safe place to live. After seeing what I experienced in Central America, it has opened my eyes to the world, including right here in Canada and have since become a Volunteer member of HFH Northumberland and hope to do my first Canadian build in Port Hope in April 2010. I am also becoming a Volunteer member in my home town of Fredericton, New Brunswick with HFH Fredericton with my second Canadian build in Fredericton ( for Teymouth ) in July 2010. I will also be presenting a slide show and talk of my Global Village experience in El Salvador, at the Rotary Club in Fredericton at the same time. I plan to do at least one Global Village Trip per year for as many years as I can...next I am thinking Costa Rica or Bolivia.
Thank you for the experience.
Courtesy Rod ingersoll
Global Village Thailand
During the Christmas break, I went with my family (mom, dad, brother and 2 sisters) to Thailand to do volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. There were 20 volunteers in our group from all across Canada.
Our Habitat project was in a little village called Bann Fai, which is three hours from Bangkok. About 75 families live in Bann Fai. We constructed one new house and two additions.
The bricks used to build the homes were from the Khorat Railway Project. The families here are terribly poor. Habitat has helped them to purchase equipment and has provided training so they can make their own bricks by hand and sell them back to Habitat for use in their projects. The bricks were in the shape of Lego blocks and they had holes down the middle, so they fit together. Metal rods and cement held the bricks together. Everything is done very simply on Habitat projects. There is no extra money for fancy equipment or tools. Everyone on our team was able to help out equally, as the work was unskilled.
Various folks in the village would come to help us with the projects, especially the homeowners. They are required to help with the construction of their home and they have to put in 500 hours of volunteer work before they are eligible for a home. Habitat calls their projects "hand-ups”, not "handouts”.
We worked for five days building. On our last day, the village prepared the house for a special blessing and a reception to thank us. The village elders blessed us by wrapping strings around our wrists. It was very touching to be thanked so warmly. They presented us each with certificates and small gifts.
Our trip to Thailand was an experience of a lifetime. The Thai people were so thankful, gracious and kind. They hope we will come back to build more homes or to visit as tourists.
My Habitat teammates were all great people and I hope to stay in touch with them. I learned so much about Thailand and its culture and it made me more appreciative of what I have back at home.
Courtesy of Kevin Romano.
Article originally published in the St. Michaels Parish of London Newsletter, Easter 2008