Same same but different…

In just a month, I’ll be doing one of my favorite things with a couple of new twists.  I’ll be leading a team of Habitat for Humanity Global Village volunteers – this time in Asheville, NC!  That’s right.  A sweet journey of less than 5 hours with only one 45 minute layover will bring me to my next project.  Haha, a far cry from the 16 hour flights I’ve found myself on recently.  No passport required.  No money exchange.  No bungling a foreign language.  I can brush my teeth with water from the sink and eat whatever is offered!  Oh what a relief.  🙂

It seems like a sign that I’ll be taking on this project at a time when the US is sparring with the UN over their recent report that levels of poverty are increasing here at home.  The report – and our response to it – bring their own controversy.  But what rings true in my mind is that our status as a “wealthy, developed nation” does not negate the fact that many of us are in need of assistance.  Yes, I said “us”.  We are in this together.

And eleven of “us” will soon be giving our all to help families in Asheville achieve their dream of home ownership.

This trip has been in the works for more than a year and is special to me for many reasons.  I’m excited to engage with the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and the Office of Alumni Relations at Franklin & Marshall College to team up with Habitat for Humanity and offer this experience to students, alumni and staff for the first time!  I am passionate about the work of this organization and have wanted to become more involved with my alma mater for quite some time.  I’m thrilled that these things are all coming together!  I’ve also never led a domestic volunteer team and am looking forward to a new experience – including challenging my own assumptions about what “need” looks like.

The Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (AAHFH) does amazing work around Buncombe County, NC.  They’ve worked on more than 450 homes, serving over 1,300 individuals, since they were founded in 1983.  That’s right – we’re talking about Asheville, North Carolina, United States of America.  A hip, vibrant community set amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains which is home to the Biltmore Estate.  A place where you might want to retire someday.  AAHFH builds 20 houses per year here for families in need.  And they can barely scratch the surface.

There is a lack of affordable housing in the area due largely to the fact that many people who live here with their families are employed in jobs which depend on the highly seasonal tourist industry.  The discrepancy between the wages of hospitality workers and the cost of living in the area is becoming insurmountable for many.  Of the top 20 occupations in Buncombe County, 9 are insufficient to afford appropriate, fair market rental housing.  In 2016, 23.3% of children in Buncombe County lived below the poverty line.

Our team will be working with several families, since AAHFH usually has about 6 projects ongoing simultaneously.  We have information on two of those families and when reading their stories, the reality of the situation becomes obvious.  Shaketia is a teacher and has two children.  When her lease was due for renewal, she was unable to afford the significant increase in rent and was forced to move in with her mother.  She now shares a twin bed with her daughter while her son sleeps on the floor.  Mary has been driving a school bus for 10 years and has four children.  Her landlord decided to sell affordable rental home they had been living in for 8 years and she was forced to find a new home for her family.  Her only option was to lease a small 3 bedroom apartment for the 5 of them.

Stories like those of Shaketia and Mary are far too common. Many of us may be fortunate enough to have not experienced this type of hardship, but we only need look to see those important qualities that we share.  They are good people, hard working, striving to support their families and raise their children as best they can.  When times got tough, they did what they had to and kept a positive outlook.  Sounds familiar?  Yes, to me too.

Our work in Asheville will be a time of learning, sharing, hard work and, yes, love.  The lives of these families will be changed forever and I’m lucky to be able to be a part of this experience.  I’m excited for the journey.

*If you would like to make a financial contribution toward the work of Habitat for Humanity and help families like those of Shaketia and Mary, please use this link.  Every dollar counts!

**This post contains statements and images provided by AAHFH.  Their collaboration and support is appreciated.

Looking back on a great year…

It’s only a few days into 2018 and already I’m in full swing:  planning, organizing, scheming and plotting.  Haha, so many fun things coming up soon!  But before I get caught up in what’s next, I find myself looking back and thinking “WOW”.  2017 brought so many truly special moments.  Many of them were centered around my volunteer travels and none of them would have been possible without so many wonderful supporters.  Let me say that again to make sure it’s clear.  I couldn’t do any of this without YOU! 🙂

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Global Village teams in China, Mexico and Cambodia.  I worked with over 40 volunteers to help 3 families build safe and secure homes.  And along the way, more than 20 donors and supporters helped me to raise over $3000 to further this mission – thank you!  Truly amazing numbers.  But the numbers tell only part of the story.  It’s the special moments on these trips are what really get you.

In each location, the families, teams, building techniques and culture were extremely different.  We never knew what to expect until we arrived.  And I can honestly say that none of the trips were what I imagined as I was planning for them – they were all much better. 🙂

In China, our team of 8 volunteers worked with Mr. Long as he built a home for his multi-generational family.  Soon 13 people will be living safely here all under one roof!  You can read more about our trip to China here and see some photos of our work here.

 

In Mexico, a large team of 18 volunteers worked with Margarita – a widow who lives with her 3 daughters, 2 sons and daughter-in-law.  After her husband passed away, Margarita had to take on all of the household duties.  Life is challenging but she never complains – in fact, quite the opposite.  Margarita shared her smile with us daily and after we left, she said that she was still “dreaming about the work that was done and all the faces of the people that helped.”

    

The Big Build in Cambodia was a whirlwind of activity (read more here) and at the future homes of Sopheap and Sophary, you could feel the excitement.  Our team of 18 volunteers helped raise the walls of their homes and were inspired by their stories and outlook on life.

    

2018 will take me to many new places including (Vietnam, Jordan and Brazil) and I continue to be grateful for your support.  To those of you who have traveled around the world with me, thank you for the investment you’ve made!  But you don’t have to join a team to participate.  Whether it be a ride to the airport, a gift of tangible items or monetary donations to share with families around the world or even a message of encouragement, your involvement in this mission is paramount to it’s success and I am so thankful to have you on this journey with me.  Continue to ask questions, I love to talk about the trips!  If you want to be more involved, let me know and I’ll give you a slideshow – we can share the word together!  And remember, when you are ready – there’s always room for you on the next trip. 🙂

Just in case you’ve gotten all the way through this post and these words move you…I’m currently fundraising to help families in Brazil, Jordan and Vietnam .  Click on the country of your choice to access my fundraising page or let me know if you’d like to send any donations of clothing or other supplies. 🙂  Thanks in advance!

A BIG Build

In November, had the opportunity to lead a Global Village Volunteer Team for Habitat to Humanity to Cambodia.  What a great experience!  It was not only the first time I’d traveled to Cambodia, but also a new volunteer experience for me – out of 20+ international volunteer trips, this was my first BIG build. 🙂

What, you may ask, makes this so special and WHY, Tricia, are you emphasizing the “BIG” part of this?  Well, this was no ordinary project.  In summary – 265 international volunteers came together during the same 5 days in Battambang province to build 23 houses for deserving homeowners.  If that doesn’t qualify as BIG I’m not sure what does.

From time to time, countries who are working with Habitat for Humanity decide to put on a special event and focus their resources on helping lots of families at the same time.  It’s their way of boosting their capacity and serving as many homeowners as possible!   This event, known as a “Big” or “Blitz” Build, is not only a mechanism by which homes are constructed, but also serves to build a bigger community of volunteers.  Here’s a little bit of information from Habitat for Humanity Cambodia on this years event.

During this year’s Cambodia Big Build, 17 teams of 2-40 volunteers each from 6 different countries participated.  The largest groups came from the US, Canada and New Zealand, but volunteers from Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong were there to contribute too!  Here’s a photo of most of the group – wow.

Because of the size of the group, the logistics were obviously very different than most of the other projects on which I’ve participated.  Instead of spending a week in the most remote corner of Kyrgyzstan, Zambia or China where few tourists ever travel, we created our own international convey descending on Siem Reap and Battambang en masse.  We spent time not just learning about the local culture, but meeting new volunteers from home too.  It was great fun!  Well…once we got going.  We arrived in Siem Reap and traveled by 14 buses for about 3 hours to reach Battambang.  Upon arrival, let’s just say the check in area was a little overwhelming…

We were welcomed to Cambodia with a dinner and presentation at the Governor’s Palace.  We learned about the work of HFH Cambodia, enjoyed a good meal, and were treated to some traditional Cambodian music and dance!

  

The next morning, it was finally time to get started building those 23 homes.  We loaded up our buses again and traveled about 20 minutes from the hotel to the work community – complete with police escort!  There was more ceremony for us before the hard work started – HFH Cambodia presented each volunteer with a traditional scarf and then we gathered in the lunch tent for another presentation.  Let’s just say that seeing so many people together in the same place at the same time for the same purpose was inspiring.

But when it really hit us all was when we were introduced to the 23 future-homeowners.  Each family sent one person to the stage and two representatives were selected to give short speeches.  They talked about how excited they were for this opportunity to own a home and how honored they were that we had volunteered to assist them.  Their stories touched our hearts and motived us even more to do everything we could over the next 5 days.

After a little more pomp and circumstance, at last we were released to work!  The 23 homes that would be built were located in two separate communities just a few minutes drive apart.  My team set off for “Site 1”.  Here we are….on our way… 

On this site, 9 houses would be built – all on the same street.  When we arrived, the foundations of the houses were complete and they also had a roof!  The roof is usually put on last but because the weather forecast included rain, local workers put them on so that we could continue our work no matter what.  No rest for the weary.

Our tasks over the 5 days included carrying lots buckets of mortar and sand as well as building all of the walls on each home.  Toward the end of the week, we also prepared the floor and plastered the walls.  The site was a buzz every day with ~100 people scurrying about.  Just looking up and down the street you can tell how hard everyone was working.

Well, we were working hard until the donut lady showed up. 😉 

Since finishing the houses by Friday was the goal, local workers helped to bring all of the houses to the same stage each evening.  On the morning of the last day, we were ready to present the homes to the families!  Everyone cleaned up their respective worksites, decorated the façade, and then (you guessed it!) held a short ceremony.  We allowed the homeowners to cut the ribbon on their home and presented them with a group photo, gift basket and symbolic key before removing our shoes and becoming their first guests.  We shared our thoughts with each other and celebrated this huge milestone together.  Here’s an example of what one of the homes looked like when we were finished: It was an emotional but exciting week and looking back, it’s amazing to think about how much was accomplished!  This was an incredible trip for many reasons and I’m so glad that I participated.  Stories of our particular homeowner will follow soon.  🙂 🙂

***Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Cambodia for hosting this event and for the group photo included in the above post.

Sunday on Lake Kivu

A gorgeous freshwater lake, a calm day, sunshine, blue skies and a boat.  If you ask me, these are a perfect recipe for a relaxing weekend with friends!  Or so it would seem.

Our group was taking a break from a two week volunteer assignment.  We took a three hour drive from Kigali to Kibuye, one of the beautiful beach towns on Lake Kivu, for the weekend.  From the vantage point of the Bethanie Hotel, we had stunning views of the area.

Lake Kivu is a freshwater lake that separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  One of Africa’s Great Lakes (the 6th largest in Africa), Lake Kivu was formed by volcanic activity in the Albertine Rift.  You may also be interested in knowing that Lake Kivu is an “exploding lake”!  Huge amounts of trapped methane and carbon dioxide are suspected to be the cause of lake overturns  (that’s an eruption of dissolved carbon dioxide) about every 1,000 years.  A future overturn would be catastrophic to the 2 million people living in the lake basin.  Strategies to harness and utilize the vast amount of methane gas as a source of energy are continually being investigated.  Here are three interesting articles.

There are many islands on the lake and one of those – Napoleon Island – was our destination on this perfect Sunday back in December 2016.  We were ready to feel the breeze and set off without many expectations.  Our guide was really helpful but spoke limited English and kept telling us that we would see “a lot of birds”.  OK.  Fine.  Sounds good.

After a ride of maybe 30 minutes, we arrived on the island.  Our guide points up and says “we will go there”.  Um, what?  Where I come from, that’s a small mountain.  But OK.  We climbed uphill on a dirt path for about 45 minutes – it was hot and this was not how we intended to spend our “relaxing morning” but we trudged on.  And yes, the views from the top made it worthwhile!

Mind you, we had yet to see any birds…

After a short rest, we headed down in a different direction into the dense forest.  Our guide followed us and when he started clapping and whistling, we finally understood.  We were here not to see BIRDS but rather BATS.  And LOTS of them!!  You see, Napoleon Island is home to a colony of fruit bats.  🙂

The racket our guide was making woke them up from their daytime slumber and they started flying everywhere.  I mean hundreds if not thousands of bats.  We stood transfixed as they flew by so close that we could have easily touched them.

Pictures don’t really do it justice…

Some continued to hang from their trees, eyeing us as intruders and alternately ignoring us completely.  For all of the noise, they didn’t seem too bothered by us, really.

I’ve never been in such a strange, unique and unexpected circumstance!  But it was amazing.  We just stood there gawking – with our mouths closed, really, there was a lot of guano flying around.   Not entirely what we had expected from our “relaxing morning on the lake”.  Definitely much better. 🙂

 

Time to recommit…

Oh. My. Goodness.  How can 6 months have passed since my last post?  I’ve had so many amazing and wonderful adventures…I guess I just get caught up in experiencing the moment rather than writing about it. Forgive me – stories to follow, I promise. 🙂

It’s time to make some changes, starting with this unplanned, in the moment post!  I can’t think of a more appropriate time …let me explain.

I am currently spending my last night (on this trip!) in Americus, Georgia. Where’s that?  Yeah…you’ll need to check the map. 🙂  Americus is a quiet but lovely town in southwestern Georgia. Look!

I arrived over a week ago right ahead of Hurricane Irma (it literally started raining as I unpacked the car…). I have spent the past week at the headquarters of Habitat for Humanity.  It’s been fantastic!

During the first few days, I spent time in the office with some great people preparing for the big moment… On Thursday, the event started!  This was the first of several  sessions where Habitat for Humanity Global Village Volunteer Team leaders are coming together to meet, talk, learn, share and recommit to serving the mission of this organization.  We were given an extra special reception at the historic Rylander Theatre downtown:

On that first night, the initial 17 team leaders to attend recertification training got to know each other and learn more about the roots of Habitat. We were treated to a special showing of “Briars in the Cotton Patch” – a movie describing the roots of Habitat set in the Civil Rights era. I had no idea…definitely worth a watch., look for it

Over the next two days, we attended talks that ranged in content but had the overall impact of bringing this group of individuals together as one cohesive unit with a common goal.  I feel so privileged to be a part of this crowd!  And it is reaffirming in a multitude of ways

So this day seems fitting to kick off a renewed commitment to posting updates, as I am reenergized about the future and my renewed commitment.  I can’t wait to be the best I can be, to serve to the best of my ability, and to make the most of every moment that life grants me.

Thanks for joining me on the journey and having faith. Our best is yet to come. ❤️

Exploring and learning while enjoying life and doing my part. Here, there and everywhere…