As many people know, I just finished my first global trip with Habitat for Humanity in Ethiopia. I chose to go to Ethiopia because I currently live in Kenya and while I live here I would like to travel East Africa. So it was a no-brainer to decide to volunteer in Ethiopia.
My team had the pleasure of being the 100th team to build in Ethiopia and the very first in Bisidimo. Bisidimo is a small village under an hour outside Harar in Eastern Ethiopia. The significance of this town is a high rate of leprosy, with families receiving stigma and living in very unhealthy conditions.
We assisted in the different phases of eight houses for the selected families in the community. The families chosen will move into improved chika houses. The improved chika house is a structured home insulated with chika (mud) with mabati (tin) roof, and finished with concrete plaster. The house is set up with a large sleeping room, living area, and a separate kitchen. Additionally, pit latrines are constructed at each housing unitMy jobs during the build included applying chika, tying posts with wire, mixing cement, moving stones and sand, and assisting in the building of the pit latrine.
The first day of our build we were enthusiastically greeted by the village with a coffee ceremony and traditional dancing. For me the slowest day, I helped with applying the chika, which essentially meant strategically throwing mud into the wooden frame of the house. Fun!
Days 2-4 I assisted with the pit latrines and framework of the houses. For framework, I used wires and tied the posts that would eventually hold the chika, very simple. The assisting of the pit latrine definitely was the tough job, but I enjoyed it. I assisted in moving stones and sand to various locations and saw the different stages of the pit latrine. It was fun to throw the large boulders into the pit to make the foundation.
Our final day we went to a new village and saw the very beginning of the chika house. Only a rope was mapping out the house and we helped in creating the holes that would hold the poles for the future foundation and framing. This was harder than it sounds. We had to dig the holes one foot across by about 2 feet down with something like a shovel but not a shovel. The ground was packed so tightly where I was digging with another volunteer it was like chipping away at cement. However, in the two hours we worked we managed to dig two perfect holes. Girl power!
After our final work task, we headed to the original build site where the community held a very moving closing ceremony for us. They presented us with traditional outfits as gifts and a farewell coffee ceremony. We said our goodbyes to the families who welcomed us, many who worked beside us all week, and before long were on our bus with our work done, but with the beginning of many more teams to follow.
The week flew by but the memories will last a lifetime. Anyone who is thinking about joining a global build just needs to do it because it is an experience that will stay with you forever!
The program cost is so much. Is it worth it and what is included?
When you usually go on vacation the cost is about the same. The difference is you now get to integrate and interact with a local culture in a way most people don’t. The cost of every GV trip varies, but I have seen some as low as $1300 to as high as $2500. These fees are inclusive of cultural excursions, a donation to the build you participate in, all food and drinks (except alcohol), all transportation, and accommodation. Unfortunately the cost of airfare to/from the country of choice is not included or visa. The differences in cost are based on the location and length of the trip. But yes. It is worth every penny. And unlike a normal vacation, you can raise money for the cost of your trip. Habitat sets up a fundraising account and you have the option to fund as much of the trip as you can, so rally your friends and family for a good cause. Additionally, like I did, I asked for the support to cover my airfare and visa. So the trip can be entirely free, other than spending money.
Do I need building experience?
Not at all! Just a can-do attitude and willingness to learn. They will teach you what you need to know on the build because every site is different based on location.
Will I be working the entire time?
No!! Part of the trip is a cultural exchange. There are excursions planned or discussed with the group and you get plenty of free time to do some exploring on your own if you want.
Team Leaders interview and select the team going on builds, but anyone is welcome to sign up! Our team consisted of Americans, Americans living overseas, Canadians, and New Zealanders.
What should I bring?
It varies depending on your location. Work gloves, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, tennis shoes, camera, and comfortable working clothes are definitely a must. Make sure to bring some clothes to go out in and you can get your money exchanged at the airport for better rates, so bring cash with you to do so.
What builds are available and how do I sign up?
Go to www.habitat.org/cd/gv/schedule.aspx
All of the upcoming trips are listed and you just have to click on the one you want to find out information and to apply. Trips are usually posted 6 months prior to the build, but no more than a year.