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.