Category Archives: Travel

Tien Giang, Vietnam (March 2018)

Recruiting for this build is now complete – check back for stories our our adventures!

The Tien Giang province, situated along the Mekong Delta’s coastline, faces the ocean and is one of the most vulnerable communities at risk to typhoons and storms from the ocean, leading to flooding in the area and destruction of poorly construction homes. This team will work to provide access to safe shelter, water and sanitation facilities for low income families.

While poverty has fallen in Vietnam in recent years, many ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas remain poor. Urban poverty is also a challenge, as towns and cities swell with the influx of people drawn by economic opportunities.

Many homes in Vietnam were built informally and without adequate supporting infrastructure. About a quarter of the country’s housing stock is substandard or temporary.

Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, established in 2001, specializes in the implementation of sustainable, community-based shelter and water and sanitation solutions. It has experience in rehabilitating and repairing properties damaged by the severe weather that frequently strikes the country’s long coastline. Habitat also works with microfinance networks so families can save and access credit for home improvements, a speedy way to help thousands of families improve their sanitation and housing.

For more information about this trip, please follow this link.

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 habitat.org.

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.

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

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. 🙂

 

Battambang, Cambodia (November 2017)

In November 2017, 250+ volunteers will join together to  build 29 homes during Habitat for Humanity‘s BIG BUILD in Cambodia!  Read on for more information about the project.  Details on the need for housing in Cambodia and how volunteers and donors can help are below!

Housing Need in Cambodia

While poverty has decreased significantly in recent years, many Cambodian families are hovering only just above the poverty line of US$1.25 per day.  Nearly three quarters of Cambodia’s population was still living on less than US$3 a day in 2011, according to the World  Bank.  Poverty is largely concentrated in the rural areas though urban poverty may be rising.  Habitat for Humanity Cambodia seeks to break the cycle of poverty through safe, durable, affordable housing solutions and innovations.  Since 2003, HFH Cambodia has enabled more than 18,000 families to build strength, stability and self‐reliance through innovative housing and human settlements interventions.

The BIG BUILD!

Once per year, Habitat for Humanity sponsors a “Big Build”, focusing the efforts of a large number of volunteers on one location.  For 2017’s special build, approximately 200 volunteers will join HFH Cambodia for one week in Battambang Province to build at least 15 safe, quality and affordable houses with home partner families.  Battambang is located in the northwestern part of Cambodia, approximately 300 km from Phnom Penh.  This city has 14 Districts, 102 communes and 799 villages, with approximately 235,000 households and a total population of just over 1 million.

The 15 houses will be built during this effort primarily using Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB), a building material that is made mainly from damp soil compressed at high pressure to form blocks. The CEB technology has  been developed for low‐cost construction,  as an alternative to adobe to promote the use of eco‐friendly construction materials within communities.

Government approved design of Compressed Earth Block homes
Compressed Earth Block production
Completed home from Compressed Earth Blocks

 

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

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.