Habitat for Humanity volunteer
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Mozambique, Africa, to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project.
Myself and 19 other Canadians made up one of the first teams building with Habitat for Humanity’s new Orphans and Vulnerable Children program.
This program was developed to provide shelter for children who have been left orphaned or vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is sweeping across the country and the continent. With an estimated 17 per cent of the population infected with HIV/AIDS, there are now some 400,000 children in Mozambique without one or both parents, many of which lack adequate shelter and a place to call home.
After arriving in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, our team travelled by bus to the small town on Xai Xai (pronounced “Shy Shy”).
A bustling town located on the Indian Ocean, this would be our home for the next several weeks. Many of us had never met before arriving in the Maputo airport, but since we had all been brought together by a common goal it didn’t take long for friendships to begin. After approximately 24 hours of travel for some of us, we were happy to have hot water and a place to sleep for the night as we knew we would be starting work bright and early the next morning.
Our work days would start off the same: breakfast at 6:30 a.m., followed by a 45 minute drive out of Xai Xai to the small village we were building in. Our group was divided into three teams, each working on a different house.
Each team worked with a local contractor that would delegate the jobs and tasks that needed to be done.
We would build homes for three families;
• The first house was for a woman named Filida, a 45 year old widow and mother of two teenage daughters, Eunice and Giloide. In 2004, Filida lost her husband to AIDS, and as of 2008 both Filida and her daughters are HIV positive as well.
• The second home was for Isabella, another widow, and her son Antonio. Although both have tested negative for HIV, they are severely at risk and Isabella hoped to a have a safe house for her son to grow up in.
• The final house was for Eunice, a 12-year-old girl that has been living by herself since she lost her mother to AIDS last year. Her aunt lives close by but because of the number of children she has she was unable to accommodate Eunice as well.
We did everything, from digging the foundation, laying the bricks, even making and mixing our own cement. It was a lot of hard work and with the African sun beating down on us all day we were constantly drinking water and utilizing electrolyte tablets to avoid dehydration.
We treasured our downtime at the work site because that was when we were able to interact with the children in the village, and for me, that was definitely the highlight.
During the first few days of the build, the children were unsure of what to make of us. To them we were just a group of strangers who invaded their small village every morning. We tried our best to make them feel comfortable and try to break through the language barrier by attempting to start a game of frisbee or dodgeball, but we could see that they were still a little apprehensive about our presence. That didn’t last long.
By day three of the build they were waiting at the construction site for our arrival. They greeted us with hugs and laughter, and were constantly fighting one another for a chance to hold one of our hands. Our frisbee soon became an instant hit and we would have matches during our snack and lunch breaks, but nothing compared to Duck, Duck, Goose; one of the many games we were able to teach them.
Another one of their favorite things was having their picture taken. Since very few families own mirrors it is very rare that they get to see what they look like, so as soon as we would take their picture they would crowd around us to see it reflected on our digital camera screen. The laughter and excitement was infectious, and it was amazing to see how something so simple had so much meaning to them.
One afternoon, our Habitat for Humanity representative arranged for us to visit the local school. It was about a 10 minutes walk from the build site and when we arrived at the school we were completely ambushed – imagine having 1,500 kids running towards you! This was a very common theme throughout the rest of the trip. No matter where we went it was inevitable that we would have a group of kids trailing behind us. At the end of the day they would hug us good-bye and as our vans would pull away from the the village the children would crowd around and chase us down the sandy streets. It was heart-breaking to leave them, especially on the last day when we had to have one of the contractors explain to them that we would not be returning. I can not even begin to describe the impact these children had on me during the short time I spent with them. Even living in such unfortunate conditions they remain optimistic and so full of hope and energy, and for the rest of my life I will never forget their smiles!
I have only shared with you a few of the details about my journey, and unfortunately no matter how hard I try I don’t think I could ever fully relay how remarkable it truly was.
Without the generous support of the people in our own community I would not have been able to make this inspiring trip. Whether it was through financial assistance, the donation of bottles, or collecting school supplies for the local children, on behalf of myself, Habitat for Humanity, and the all the families we have built for, please accept my sincerest gratitude.
The memories I have taken away from this experience are irreplaceable and I thank you for making it possible!
Since returning home from the trip I have moved to Vancouver where I have just begun a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at the University of British Columbia.
My goal with this degree is work in the field of pediatrics, and I would love to one day return to Africa or another third world country to continue working with at-risk children.