Category Archives: Habitat for Humanity

I Speak With My Eyes (2020 Quarantine Edition)

Last week I had to attend 2 essential appointments.  I did so with all of the appropriate precautions, including my latest fashion accessory…

Both appointments were with people who I see regularly but not very often.  As I approached, a strange thought occurred to me – would they recognize me like this?  What features do you pick up on to “recognize” someone?  Do you need to see someone’s face or can you just hear their voice, note their clothes, see their mannerisms and the way they enter the room?   And this reminded me of a story…..

I’ve had the opportunity to travel and volunteer twice in the country of Jordan.  Before my first trip, I had never visited any country in the Middle East and, like many people, I had no idea what to expect.  I think there are a lot of preconceived notions, mostly misconceptions and stereotypes, about the people and culture of this region.  I went with an open mind because really – isn’t this one reason why travel is so important?  To educate, to share, to experience for yourself and form your own opinions…  I was excited to take it all in!

Jordanians are extremely welcoming and I was lucky to have excellent company on this trip.  One of the first things I noticed and was curious to learn more about (in addition to the delicious food!) was the style of dress for the women.  In this country, about 95% of people are Muslim and 5% are Christian.  People are very accommodating of others traditions and I saw people wearing everything from cute tops and skinny jeans to “regular” outfits topped off with hijabs to full burkhas.  I’m definitely no expert on the different types of head coverings, but here’s some info if you are interested in learning more.

When our team arrived at our Habitat for Humanity Global Village location, we met with the family of Mr. and Mrs. S who were excited to soon have a home of their own!

We worked side by side, day by day, and not once did Mrs. S hesitate to put on gloves and get dirty with the rest of us.  She became one of my two wall-building partners that week. 🙂

Clearly, the fact that women here dress conservatively does not mean that they are limited!  In fact, I also had a chance to meet a group of women who have started their own community-based organization (CBO) – by women, for women.  To my knowledge, they now work with over 50 women in their community.  Their work focuses on seeking solutions to life’s daily challenges, identifying opportunities for all and generally providing a network of support for women.  The concept of women’s economic empowerment through CBOs in Jordan is highly promoted by the government – here’s an example of a recent event where organizations like this one were recognized publicly.

During the course of the trip, I also had an opportunity to become friends and have many conversations with Mrs. M, whose husband plays an important role in the CBO we were working with on that build.  She lives next door to the guesthouse where we stayed and has a good command of English, enabling us to have many in depth discussions.  I learned more about her daily life and quickly realized that despite our differences, she was describing a life which really was not that different from my own.  Mrs M normally wears a niqab and at one point when we were in her home, she took it off to show me her face and let me try it out. Um….it’s pretty hot under there, whew!

Once we became comfortable with each other, our conversations became more personal. When I posed question “why do you dress this way”, she immediately smiled and said, in an astonished tone, “why wouldn’t I??”.  She shared with me that she has covered her head since she was 15.  Because SHE wants to, it is 100% her choice.  She is proud of the way she lives her life and by choosing to cover herself, she is able to define how she interacts with others.  Her exact words? 

“I am golden.  I choose who is allowed to see me and who is not. It is my decision.  It is my special gift and power.” 

Wow, perfect.  It led to a conversation about self-expression and the recognition that we were truly seeing each other – despite her external coverings and my own less visible barriers.  To her, it was so clear.  You don’t need to express yourself through materialistic or ostentatious displays. Just be true yourself.  Her second lesson to me?  “You know me because I speak with my eyes.”

This conversation took place more than 2 years ago, but it still rings true.  For everyone.  If you want to honestly know someone, you only need to look into their eyes to see their heart.  Tell me you can’t see Mrs. S’s joy!

As tourists, it was totally fine to not cover our heads during our time in Jordan – but eventually, you realize that you “stick out less” if you give it a try.  So, on the last day of the trip, inspired by a parting gift given to me by Mrs. M, I did just that at dinner.  And the hotel staff, who had seen me in my usual pony-tailed state for days prior to the conclusion of our trip, all stopped and stared when I got out of the elevator.  Oh no!  I was immediately self conscious – did I offend them all?  Is this the worst idea ever??  I started to apologize only to discover quite the opposite.  They broke out in huge grins and sheepishly replied “beautiful…”. 

Let that sink in for a bit.  Hair free, looking my “normal” – no comment or even a sideways glance.  Wrap it all up – and every head turned.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I am golden.  I choose who gets to see me. 

We are all going to become experts at speaking with our eyes in the post-COVID new normal. I’m glad I got off to a good start with a great teacher.

To learn more about the work of Habitat for Humanity in Jordan, please click here. Global Village teams have been suspended in 2020 but families are still in need. If you are able, you can make a financial donation in support of this work using this link (scroll down to designate your donation to Jordan). Your kindness and generosity are most 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.

Irbid, Jordan (May 2018)

Due to economic necessity and tradition, extended families in this country tend to live together, resulting in 12 to 15 family members oftentimes sharing a small two-room house. Overcrowded living conditions and a lack of privacy endanger the health and well-being of families. Additionally, women struggle to cook in makeshift kitchens with dirt floors, which results in improperly stored food that can attract pests and rodents. Habitat for Humanity Jordan works with the local community to provide housing solutions to these families in need of healthy, affordable homes.

With 80 percent of the population currently living in cities — 63 percent in Amman, Zarqa and Irbid alone — Jordan is also faced with an urban housing crisis. Continued migration into the cities, combined with an influx of refugees from neighboring countries and the high level of urban poverty, have left many families without adequate shelter. These families are struggling with unsanitary conditions and social alienation. Inadequate housing fosters a sense of helplessness and marginalization among the poor, most of whom believe they are powerless to improve their living conditions.

Habitat for Humanity Jordan operates in 11 communities, bringing opportunities for families to lead safe, healthy and productive lives. A typical Habitat house in Jordan averages 55 square meters and is made of concrete blocks. The houses represent opportunities to build relationships across cultures, religions and classes, which consequently builds peace in the country.

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 www.habitat.org/gv.

About Habitat for Humanity International

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in more than 1,300 communities throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up 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.

Hoa Binh, Vietnam (May 2019)

The team had a successful experience in Hoa Binh, assisting Mr Hoan to build the house he’s always dreamed of owning.

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.

About a quarter of the country’s housing stock is substandard or temporary.  Many homes in Vietnam were built informally and without adequate supporting infrastructure. But with a quarter of the population poor or nearly poor, many cannot afford to repair their house. Additionally, poor groundwater quality makes access to clean water and sanitation another challenge.

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 natural disasters and 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.

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 www.habitat.org/gv.

About Habitat for Humanity International

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in more than 1,300 communities throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up 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.

Nayarit, Mexico (March 2019)

A team of volunteers from Cape Cod, Massachusetts joined together to travel to Mexico to help families achieve their dream of owning a safe, durable home in March, 2019.

In Mexico, more than 50 percent of the population live in conditions of poverty, and with 59 percent earning less than three minimum wages per day, many lack the means to buy or build adequate housing. In Nayarit alone, 121,000 people live in poverty and 227,000 don’t have access to electricity, drinkable water or sewer systems.

Since 1989, Habitat for Humanity Mexico has fought poverty through adequate housing, supporting and empowering more than 57,000 families in organized communities.  Despite the progress that has been made in providing housing in recent years, more than 53.3 million people in Mexico do not have the financial means to buy or build adequate housing (45.5%).

Family income has been losing purchasing power: 60.6 million people (51.6%)earn incomes below the welfare line, which are insufficient to acquire the goods and services they require to meet their most basic subsistence needs.  Of this population, 15.9 million people (13.6%) live in homes with dirt floors, roofs made of tin, cardboard or debris, walls made of mud, reeds, palm or sheet; 24.9 million (21.2%) have no access to basic services of potable water, drainage, electricity and fuel for cooking or heating food. In addition, more than 538,000 families live in overcrowded conditions.

Habitat for Humanity Mexico works to combat poverty, supporting low-income families in building their homes; promoting community development through influencing public policies; attracting public and private resources for housing and sensitizing governments, donors and volunteers on the human right to live in adequate housing.

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 www.habitat.org/gv.

About Habitat for Humanity International

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in more than 1,300 communities throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up 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.