Tag Archives: volunteer

Return to volunteering!

Wow, it’s been so long. 656 days to be exact, not that I’m counting. But it’s true – I got home from my last international volunteer mission “in the time before” in January 2020. And in November 2021, I was finally able to participate in another house-building service trip. That’s a great thing because while many of us are lamenting the loss of our ability to easily travel or see our friends or go out to a restaurant/bar/movie/event, there are many people who didn’t have such a comfortable place to ride out this pandemic. Those without a safe and decent home have struggled in ways that we cannot fully understand.

There are still many uncertainties and travel is NOT simple. The requirements and regulations are constantly changing. Travel in the developing world was already challenging – add pandemic-related safety concerns and you may give yourself a migraine just thinking about it! But if you are prepared and flexible, brave and determined you will make it work. Because there is a lot to be done and every bit, no matter how small, makes a difference.

At this point, because it is so complicated, only a handful of organizations have taken up the call to return to work, putting extra precautions in place for everyones safety. Many countries are still closed to international visitors, or require lengthy quarantines on arrival which make short-term visits unrealistic. Countries willing to allow foreigners to enter without quarantine often have covid vaccination/testing requirements which present significant logistical and financial challenges. And then there are the prospects of traveling in close quarters 24/7 with a group of people who have been existing outside your established bubble and of working in areas that may not have been exposed to covid if not for your presence. Oh my. It’s a lot to consider. But where there’s a will there’s a way!

The journey of this team began almost a year ago. I rallied a group of amazing humans who were not only willing and able, but who had the best combination of patience, positive outlook, generosity and flexibility. Because I suspected we would need all of those qualities in abundance. And as it turns out, it was true!

We partnered with The Fuller Center for Housing on this amazing trip. We originally planned to work in Madagascar, but Covid continued to block our entrance and we decided to reroute instead to Ghana. Challenge #1 of #947 surmounted. 😉 Madagascar did open it’s borders to international travelers – but only about 3 weeks before our planned arrival and still with a mandatory quarantine. We’ll just have to see that adventure for another day! I’m not sorry that we chose to go to Ghana. Do you want to hear about our work? Here’s the story!

Our team arrived in Accra, Ghana on a sunny and HOT day in November (we would soon discover that the heat does not ever stop!). Many of us knew some of our fellow teammates from prior volunteer work but I was the only one who was lucky enough to know everyone at the start. Lunch gave us the opportunity to get introduced to each other and to meet our hosts for the next two weeks. Then we headed out of town!

Our work would take place in the small community of Obretema, Ghana. It’s about 2 hours north of Accra close to the larger town of Suhum. On Monday, we were officially welcomed by the chiefs and members of the community.

After the formalities were complete it was time to get to work! We learned that our support would enable the construction of three homes. When we arrived, the foundations had already been started. Well, sort of… 🙂 On the first house (below left), the foundation was already built about 2 feet above ground. On the second house (below right), at least the digging was complete! The third house (not pictured) was in a similar state to the second. We had our work cut out for us!

Over the next two weeks, we moved a lot of dirt, rock and blocks. And along the way, we were able to meet each of the amazing future homeowner families.

William and Gifty, along with their 5 children, will be living in House #1. They currently live in the family house of William’s parents in the community adjacent to the project site, so we were able to see them every day! Their current home is a mud house which leaks when it rains and lacks a toilet. William is a construction worker by trade and put his skills to use on the job site. You could tell he was motivated to get this house built for his family. Gifty, along with her youngest son, also visited the team every day. We enjoyed getting to know them. Pictured below are their family at their current home (top left), Gifty and her son on site with volunteers (top right), and William and his son in front of their future home (bottom).

Francis, Susana and their 4 children will be living in House #2. They currently live in a rented house without a bathroom or kitchen which is about an hour from the current community, but were able to come on site a few times to meet the team and help with the construction of their home. Francis is a mango farmer and Susana runs her own seamstress business! They are excited to move into this new community and begin building a better life for their family. They are pictured below with one of their daughters – working on site and sharing their joy!

Daniel, his wife Sarah, and their 4 children will be living in House #3. Daniel is the first disabled person to be a selected as a Fuller Center Ghana home recipient. He suffered from polio as a child and has lived a difficult life, facing physical challenges and stigmatization, but he is so excited for this opportunity! His family currently lives in a single rented room. They use a shared kitchen, public toilet for a fee, and pay for water from a community well which dries up during the dry season. He visited with us for just one day (his current home is also distant from this community) and was full of smiles. Here he is (red shirt) standing in front of his future home.

By the end of the week, we had made great progress on all three homes. Here’s how things looked on our last day: William and Gifty’s house (top), up to the roof level! Francis and Susana’s house (middle) ready for the lintel. And Daniel and Sarah’s house (bottom) about half way there!

Of course, along the way there were so many fun times. We laughed, cried and learned together as we got to know the people of Ghana. In addition to meeting the homeowners and the amazing staff who supported our trip, some of our other highlights were working with the local volunteers, visiting the community school, seeing families flourishing in homes built a few years ago and of course sharing a very special Thanksgiving with this team!

And….the best news came just a few days ago. In the 4 weeks since our team left Ghana, local workers have continued to make progress and now all houses are up to the roof love, some with the roof nearly complete. 🙂

This trip would not have been possible without the courage and support of so many people. The team members and families are all grateful for the kindness and generosity of each person who played a role in the success of this project. Every single dollar donated or minute spent in this community makes a big difference. We couldn’t have done it without you! I hope to “work” with you again soon. <3

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.