Category Archives: Asia

A Home for the Long Family

In February I had the opportunity to lead a team of 9 volunteers on a one week Global Village build with Habitat for Humanity in Yunnan Province, China.  What a fantastic experience!  Everything about this trip – the location, the culture, the team, the community, the food – was so much more than I expected.  I’m excited to introduce you to Mr. Long and his family, who we worked side by side with for 5 days.

Mr. Long belongs to the Miao minority and has lived in Yunnan Province for his entire life.  Being the youngest son in the family (he has 4 older sisters and 1 older brother), it is his responsibility to care for his parents as they age.  Living in his household are his parents, his wife, and their three children.  Soon his wife’s parents will also come to live with the family.  The house where they have been living contains just 4 rooms:  a kitchen, an attic storage area, a dedicated bedroom and a combo living room/bedroom.  The house has been deemed “uninhabitable” by the government due to its age and the fact that it sustained severe damage in an earthquake a few years ago.




Photos of the Long Family’s current home. Clockwise from top left: the outside of the house (2), the attic storage and drying area, the living room/main bedroom, the second bedroom, the living room/main bedroom, the kitchen.

The family was able to build a temporary home, but they could only afford a small, 3-room basic structure.  There is no steel reinforcement within the walls and the home is built of hollow bricks, which will collapse easily in the case of another earthquake.  For these reasons, the government has also deemed this house unsuitable for permanent residence.


Take a minute to imagine, really picture in your mind, living in such conditions as a family of 9…  There is no security or safety for you or your belongings, no privacy, limited conveniences (intermittent electricity, no running water or indoor bathrooms)…and the prospect of another earthquake which could destroy your home is ever present.

Habitat for Humanity China provides help to low/middle income families throughout several provinces.  There are government programs to help the poorest of the poor in China, so the families that HFH China helps have stable jobs and can afford to make small payments on their home, but need a little extra help.  I chose to take this trip to Yunnan because it offers an excellent cultural immersion.  I actually had no idea what I was getting into!  In a good way, of course. 🙂

Our team arrived in Kunming and traveled by bus to a small town called Gaoqiao. The guesthouse was basic…including squat toilets…and special rules? 🙂  This would be our home for the next week and we ate well in town, but our work was in an even more rural location.


Each day, we set out by bus for 30 minutes and then on foot for a 45 minute hike to reach Mr Long and his family.  The hike was no walk in the park, with an up and down path and overall elevation gain of almost 1000 feet over one mile!  The setting was beautiful though so in between gasping for air we all enjoyed the scenery.


When we first arrived, we found our project already started.  Mr. Long and his community had already completed the first floor (3 rooms) of the new home!

Our tasks for the next 5 days were to pour a porch on the first level and begin building the walls upstairs.  This meant lots of mixing of concrete and mortar, moving materials, and laying bricks!  On the first day, we mixed concrete (with an actual mixer – a luxury on a build like this!) and poured the porch floor.


Everyday, Mrs. Long and other members of the community prepared a delicious home cooked meal for us at lunchtime.  What a treat!  Chopstick skills required. 🙂


For the next 4 days, we sifted sand, carried countless buckets of sifted sand and water upstairs, mixed mortar by hand and laid bricks to build up the walls.



The family worked with us everyday – they were unstoppable and their pride in their new home was obvious.  Even before we arrived, the 7-year old daughter in the family could not wait to enjoy her new home!  “Though the windows and doors on the first floor weren’t installed, she took a straw mat and quilt to the new house and slept there alone. So happy was she in these days.” says Mr. Long.  Decent and safe housing not only means an improvement of living environment, but also means self-confidence and hope.


On the last day, rain prevented us from continuing our work but it could not dampen our spirits.  We joined together with the family for a memorable lunch and celebration, wishing each other well in the future and congratulating everyone on the progress.  Our celebration started with an indoor BBQ – yet another fabulous meal.


Mr. Long is an active member of his church and a quartet performed several songs for us to kick off the official farewell ceremony!

He also gave a short speech which left not a dry eye in the audience.  We all received certificates from Jerry, the staff coordinator of HFH China, and said our goodbyes after a typical Chinese fireworks display!

We made great progress in the week and the Long Family hopes to complete their home and move in before the summer.

Reflecting on our week with this family, I know that we made a huge impact on the lives of the Long family.  However, I would argue that they made an even greater impact on mine.  Thank you, Long family, for your friendship and hard work.  You welcomed us into your community and your family – for that we will be forever grateful. ❤️️

For more photos from this build, check out my photo album!

This post contains some facts and quotes shared with me by Habitat for Humanity China.  Their help and support is appreciated.


Yunnan Province, China (February 2017)

What a fantastic experience!  I’ve been to China several times, but never this far out in the rural area.  Working for one week with a fabulous team, a wonderful staff, and a family who was so kind and generous brings with it a whole new perspective on this great country.  Please check out some recaps of our trip in this blog post:  A Home for the Long Family

For more information about Habitat for Humanity’s work in China through the Global Village program and beyond, please visit the Habitat for Humanity China homepage.  Additional information about the housing need in China is also included below.  Thanks for your support!

Housing Need

Over the past three decades, living standards have dramatically improved for many of China’s more than 1.4 billion residents, but inequality has also sharply increased. About 150 million Chinese still live on less than $1 a day. Many of the poor lack access to affordable housing, shut out by soaring land and house prices.

Established in 2000, Habitat for Humanity China was galvanized by the devastating May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. To date, Habitat China has built homes and assisted nearly 1,000 families in half a dozen Sichuan communities, including many built during the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. Habitat China has also worked in partnership with Leprosy Mission International to improve homes for people afflicted with leprosy.

China has hosted Global Village trips from 12 countries. Your donation to a Global Village trip supports Habitat’s mission of building simple, decent, affordable housing in China.

Global Village is Habitat for Humanity’s international volunteer program. Teams travel to over 40 countries to work alongside communities, build housing solutions, and experience local culture. Our goal is to change the lives of the people we serve, as well as the lives of the volunteers.

To join a team or learn more, visit

About Habitat for Humanity International

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity has grown from a grassroots effort that began on a community farm in southern Georgia in 1976 to a global nonprofit housing organization in nearly 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in over 70 countries. People partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit

This post contains information provided by Habitat for Humanity International and Habitat for Humanity China.  Their help and support is much appreciated.

Can’t top that smile. :-)

Just last week I posted an update detailing a Global Village trip with Habitat for Humanity to Kyrgyzstan during August 2014.  You can read more about how our team helped to make Jolboldu’s dream of owning a safe and decent home for his family here.

This morning I got the final piece of the puzzle – photos of Ryskiul hosting her welcome/New Years party in her new home! What a great way to ring in 2016. 🙂



Best wishes to you and your family as you celebrate the holidays too!



A Home for the Holidays (and Beyond!)

What great news I received this week – Jolboldu and his family moved into their brand new Habitat for Humanity home two weeks ago!  They are excited beyond words…and so am I!!!  How did this happen and what makes it so exciting?  Ah…read on. 🙂

I first “met” this family when I began planning a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Kyrgyzstan.  Yes, that’s right, Kyrgyzstan.  I had heard good things about this place, it was a “unique” destination (to say the least) and I am always up for a challenge so I thought – let’s go!

Imankulov Jolboldu and his wife Ryskiul live with their children in Barskoon village near Lake Issyk Kul (a beautiful place!).  Jolboldu works in the town administration.  Ryskiul cares for the children during the day and earns extra income for the family as a night watchman at the local pharmacy.  They were living in a home that is very old and deteriorating –  irreparable cracks in the walls and roof are constantly expanding.  It is also quite small for the family and to make matters worse, only one of the two rooms is heated.  Here are some photos of the house where the family lived in for 10+ years:


Jolboldu and Ryskiul desired a safer place for their children to grow up and applied for a loan from Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan  under their New House Construction Program.  When I arrived in Kyrgyzstan in August 2014 with 10 other volunteers, we were the 4th Global Village team to work on this home.

02-IMG_0391We spent two weeks doing what we could to bring their dream of owning a safe home closer to reality.  The home is different in many ways than others I worked on during previous Global Village trips.  For one thing – there was wood. 🙂  Kyrgyzstan is in an earthquake zone and housing recipients are trained in building techniques designed to withstand the forces of nature.  Walls in Habitat homes in Barskoon are constructed by affixing wood strapping to each side of the studs and then filling the ~6 inch gap in between with a mud-straw mixture (a different technique is used in the urban areas of the country’s capital, Bishkek – a subject for a future post).

Our first task was to complete the exterior walls.  Jolboldu was an expert at the pitchfork-mud-throw technique…and under his tutelage, Tony soon became an expert too.  The rest of us relied on the more traditional “mudball stuffing” method. 🙂


05-IMG_0441After about 2 days, we finished the exterior walls and thought we were really getting ahead!  But not so fast…the interior walls needed stuffing next.  Oh my!

We were undaunted…and very safe.  Don’t worry Terry, there’s only about a 10 foot drop under your round-barrel scaffolding.  Jolboldu won’t let you fall!  We also recruited extra help from every extended family member who stopped by the worksite.   Well, it was more like we couldn’t keep them away, they were so excited. 🙂  How does she stay so clean when I have mud in my hair, in my mouth, even on the inside of my glasses…???


By the time Pat and Julie placed the final mud ball, we all felt like we had accomplished so much!  And Ryskiul, who was sidelined with a broken arm while we were working, was all smiles. 🙂 🙂  I mean who wouldn’t be – the walls were complete, the roof was going on and check out the view from the bedroom!


We still had a few work days left and spent them installing the concrete floor.   If you’ve never participated in a bucket brigade, you’re missing out.  We passed buckets of sand, leveled the base layer, laid insulating foam and a waterproof barrier, then passed what must have been thousands of buckets of concrete.  OK.  Maybe just a few hundred, but it really did seem like a lot…  The floor was finally leveled and – wow, it’s starting to look like a home!

14-IMG_2047By the time we said goodbye, Jolboldu and Ryskiul were much closer to moving in.  They are incredibly kind and we each left a little piece of our heart with them in their new home.


19-IMG_2014In two weeks, we were able to make great progress and met the goals we had for ourselves, but there was still much to do. We left Kyrgyzstan knowing that there was a good chance the house would not be complete before the winter. Two additional teams came but there was simply too much to finish before the cold set in. The family would have to wait a little longer…

And this brings us back to where I started – over the summer, the finishing touches were added and as of two weeks ago, Jolboldu and his family are living in their new home!  Here are some photos of the finished home in all of it’s glory…stay tuned for updates and pictures of this wonderful family at home after New Years Day! 🙂


Barskoon, Kyrgyzstan (August 2014)

This is it!  My first trip as a team leader from start to finish…  Pressure?  No.  Just an immense amount of fun – awesome people and a beautiful place. 🙂

When I was deciding where to plan my first trip as a team leader, I was overwhelmed by the choices.  So many places, so little vacation time…  I’ve never been one to do the “popular” thing or to steer away from a challenge, so I picked one of the remotest and challenging destinations I had heard of – rural Kyrgyzstan.  I reasoned that it had good reviews from my volunteer friends and I might as well put that Russian study to use.  Right?  Right.

I had a long runway for recruiting and managed to put together a fantastic group of 11 very “normal” volunteers…haha, maybe you had to be there to get that joke. 🙂  But seriously – it was fantastic.  We stayed in a local home and despite sharing one working toilet, one outhouse and every possible minute together for 2 weeks, we managed to not only tolerate each other but become fast friends very quickly.

The stories abound – vodka and mustache nights, the bikini model in Lake Issyk Kul, the quote book…not to mention the incredible kindness of the family and community during our stay in Barskoon.  This is location that I highly recommend.  Then you too will be able to say “I don’t know anyone else who _(fill in your favorite memory here)_ in Kyrgyzstan!”