Category Archives: Asia

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!”

Phuket, Thailand (October 2013)

When I returned from Kenya in August, I was happy and satisfied.  Traveling always gives me a feeling of adventure, but I was ready to “settle down” for a while!  However, that was not in the cards…

Shortly before I went to Africa, a good friend called with a request:  would I be willing to take over leadership of a team she was planning to lead to Thailand in October?  Wow.  A 14,000 mile journey in August followed by a 17,000 mile trip in October?  Could I survive?  Well, might as well try. 🙂

This was a great way to get me “out of Africa” and into volunteering in additional destinations!  I’m thankful that it turned out as it did.  We had a small but mighty team that spent 2 weeks in Phuket building, helping, touring and taking it all in.  It was also the first time I had  “repeat volunteer” on a trip – what a great experience!

Tavush Region, Armenia (Oct 2016)

Post Trip Write up in Habitat Armenia Newsletter:

Gurgen’s dream is coming true
In October this year Gurgen and Ofelya’s family got the biggest gift of their lifetime. Now they are one step closer to their dream of having their own home. Currently the family lives in Getahovit village of Tavush region in Ofelya’s ancestral home. The family started a new house last year but they were not able to complete it because of lack of resources. They were happy and excited to have been selected to partner with Habitat Armenia. Their happiness doubled as they hosted a Global Village team of international volunteers. The team of 14 from the U.S., Denmark and Poland worked in their house for 2 weeks and helped them complete the plastering of walls. Gurgen says, “I can’t believe this is true. Now we will have our own home where the kids will have a place to play and study and we will have privacy.” Gurgen and Ofelya are grateful for the support they got from Habitat Armenia and send their best wishes to the volunteers who came from far away to help them move closer to their dream of owning a house.

About Armenia
Armenia occupies 29,700,000 square meters and is situated in the northeast Armenian highlands. Armenia is a former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia. It has a population of 3.2 million. Yerevan is the largest city and capital of Armenia. Nestled on the Ararat Plain along the Hrazdan River, Yerevan is a leading industrial, cultural and scientific centre in the Caucasus region.

Three events have shaped the current housing situation: economic and social transition, including housing privatization; a massive earthquake in 1988; and a large influx of refugees. Because of these factors, more than 50 percent of Armenia’s families in this area live in deteriorated housing with cramped quarters and limited water and heat. Almost every building in the country is considered to be below current safety requirements for earthquakes.

When families are forced to abandon the dream of completing their home due to financial hardship, they often live in the unfinished basement or cellar. This is basically a large hole in the ground with a dirt floor and makeshift roof. Others live in domiks, which are metal containers that were brought to Armenia as part of the relief effort following the devastating 1988 earthquake. Many families have been living in these containers for more than a decade. Domiks are unbearably hot in the summer and only makeshift stoves fight off the extreme cold in winter.

Ninety-six percent of the housing stock in Armenia is privately owned. The 4 percent of housing remaining in public rental is not targeted to low-income households. The work Habitat is doing in the country is essential to ensuring simple, decent, affordable housing for hundreds of Armenians.

About Habitat for Humanity in Armenia

Habitat for Humanity in Armenia tackles poverty housing through a variety of efforts, including the construction of affordable, efficient houses, the completion of half-built homes, implementation of water and sanitation facilities, advocacy of improved housing policies for low-income families, engagement of volunteers and other like-minded partners and more. As of 2008, Habitat for Humanity in Armenia had helped nearly 400 families in need in Armenia into safe and secure shelter. Learn more at