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We are Waiting for you at Home

Nope….not at my actual home….welcome to Bolivia! I arrived here via blue skies with views of the most beautiful water I’ve seen from the air in a long time. I mean, come on. 🙂

And now, I’m excited to be volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Bolivia outside Santa Cruz de la Sierra in support of their special project, “We are Waiting for You at Home.”. This project supports families with children suffer from chronic diseases and/or disabilities. The goal is to expand and improve existing homes in order to provide a safe, healthy environment for the children to recover and thrive once they return home from the hospital. How could this not be amazing?!

We have just met our partner family. Jassmin is 15 years old but has already had 4 surgeries for retinoblastoma. She also suffers from hyperthyroidism, a speech impediment and an intellectual disability which leaves her with the mental age of a 6 year old. The good news is that she is an amazing, happy, funny, kind, giving kid AND her cancer is in remission, woohoo! The bad news is that in order to achieve this success, Jassimin’s eye was removed. When doctors attempted to place an artificial eye, her body rejected it and it too had to be removed. They hope to try again in the future – more surgery to come.

In the mean time, Jassmin lives with her mom and her two sisters, age 16 and 18 in a one crowded room with limited ventilation. Here they are during our introductions. Cute (Jassmin on the left). 🙂

These girls have had a difficult life. When their mom, Ana Maria, took Jassmin to Argentina for treatment, she had to abruptly return home when she received news that her neighbors were attempting to steal her land. And in an extremely unfair twist, their mom, Ana Maria, is also undergoing treatment for skin cancer. And just this week she was diagnosed with lung cancer. You would never know it to talk with her, this is a strong woman who loves her family fiercely and is so excited for this opportunity to improve her home.

We’ll be working side by side with this family for a week to help them achieve their dream of home ownership. I can’t wait to get to know them better and become a part of their family. <3

In April, I’ll be returning to Bolivia to again work on the “We are Waiting for you at Home” project! I’m currently recruiting teams for La Paz and Cochabamba. If you’re interested in providing financial support for families such as those of Ana Maria, please use the links here and here. Every dollar counts, ¡muchas gracias!

**Information included in this post was provided by Habitat for Humanity Bolivia. Their support is much appreciated.

Another “First”

When I began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in 2012, it was a fun way to help others, travel, meet new people and get away from the stresses of work. I never could have imagined just how it would change my life! Since that first trip to Eldama Ravine, Kenya SO many volunteering “firsts” have happened for me. Some were significant (like the first time I witnessed and appreciated the real, true, tangible impact of safe, durable shelter on a families life*), some I prefer to forget (the first time I shared an outhouse with 300+ cockroaches!) and some were just plain unexpected (the first time I was offered a mouse kabob). 🙂

It’s now time for another “first” – next week is the first time I’ll be volunteering with a team comprised solely of people to whom I’m related! While I call them all “my cousins”, technically only one of them falls under that title…but it’s close enough to describe how special they all are to me. We are setting off for Sonsonate, El Salvador where we’ll be working as Global Village volunteers for one week with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador.

During the week, we’ll be assisting a family of 3 to build their own home. Carlos has been the owner of a bakery for 4 years. His wife Wendy is in charge of the baking, and Carlos goes out in the area around the community where they live to sell it each day. They are currently renting a house where they live with their 6 year old son Jonathan. We’re going to meet them in a few days and I can’t wait! Here is their photo with their parents.

I’m so grateful for all of the “firsts” that I’ve had the opportunity to experience as a result of volunteering. Thank you for your support and for sharing the joy with me!

* Follow this link to learn about how safe shelter changes lives.

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!

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. ❤️

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.