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To Papua New Guinea, With Love

US Volunteers Feel Respected And Appreciated After Habitat Build In East Sepik Province

EAST SEPIK, 11th June 2008: Having led more than 40 Global Village teams over the last nine years, Bob and Leslie Bell have especially fond memories of their recent Habitat build in Papua New Guinea.


Happy family: Global Village volunteers with the local carpenters.


Reunion: (From left) Bob Bell, HFH Papua New Guinea’s Martin Petrus and Leslie Bell.


Synchronized: Volunteers nailing down a door under a patient carpenter’s guidance.


House dedication: Rapt audience at the end of the build when a house was dedicated.


Labor of love: The Global Village volunteers who gave of themselves and received more in return.

“Our team felt respected and appreciated at all times. Our every need was taken care of with grace and expedience. The patience of the carpenters was amazing, as they took whatever time needed to demonstrate the skill needed for the job at the work site. Obviously, friendship and personal relationships were of great importance,” said Leslie in an e-mail.

A staff member from HFH Papua New Guinea played a key role in the 12-member American team’s positive experiences. Martin Petrus had worked with the Bells, who were formerly Global Village volunteer coordinators in the Asia-Pacific. The couple said: “What a delight it was to see Martin again during our team's visit in East Sepik! We have always felt a closeness to him because of his passion and commitment to HFH, and particularly to the people he serves. Our team members saw this first-hand and were impressed with his leadership and organizational skills.”

They added: “We all left there with a great deal of respect for the work that he does there, as well as the community members that he works with. They all, together, are making a huge difference in the lives of their community.”

The couple also commended HFH Papua New Guinea’s Elaine Namuesh for her helpfulness. “She was courteous and timely, and when she didn't know the answer she was willing to find it out.”

The Bells are veteran Habitat team leaders, having led teams to Australia, Fiji, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Beyond the Asia-Pacific region, they had also led teams of volunteers on Habitat builds in Kenya, Mozambique, Siberia and South Africa, among others.

Team member Andrea DeLeon also shared her experiences. Based in Chicago, US, the clinical analyst said: “The one word that comes to mind when I look back at the PNG GV experience is simplicity. I cannot believe how easily I adapted to the simple life with no electricity which meant no cell phones, no internet, no television (no news) for about 10 days.” Waking up to the “chorus of roosters” and ending the day with the “symphony of frogs and crickets”, she simply let the rhythm of the day take over.

The volunteers’ adaptability was also striking. “Another thing that amazed me is how the volunteer carpenters were able to adapt what was available as tools or aids such as using barrels as saw horses and ladders, bark to lug sand and stone for the cement mixture and using sacks to mix the cement (the cement mixer was out of commission).”

The generosity of the villagers in Apangai left a deep impression on her. “The villagers would give us whatever they had, mostly fruit or vegetables that were grown on their land. The women made a ‘Meri Blouse’ – a woman’s blouse – for each of the women team members which were proudly worn during the closing ceremony. Each team member received straw bags and a hand-woven bag from the villagers.”

Compared to DeLeon, fellow volunteer Robbie Robinson had to face questions from friends ranging from headhunting practices to malaria and dengue fever. Unfazed, he said “as I have learned from my 81 years on this planet, juxtaposed to the ‘bad side’ of life is the very good side of places and people. Thus, it was off to PNG”.

He commented: “Under the very capable Martin Petrus and his construction supervisors, not a moment was wasted in building a Habitat for Humanity house. Every team member was fully employed and, coupled with many village members, the work progress ran smoothly and joyfully. The camaraderie was outstanding and within a day, we became brothers and sisters in a common cause.”

Before long, it is time to bid farewell. “Have you ever experienced saying ‘Goodbye’ when in your heart you wished you did not have to? Our HFH GV team and the Apangai villagers had that problem. Laughter, hugs, tears – words cannot express the deep feeling that had developed between us,” said Robinson.

Back home in Alaska, US, he reflected: “Those brothers and sisters of Apangai have the same need for love, friendship, jobs, good health and a decent mode of living as all human beings whether we live in Alaska or Timbuktu. Oh, that it would be so!”

In conclusion, Bob and Leslie Bell said: “Because of the wonderful impressions made, many of our team members have committed to continuing to support the community through more building donations, as well as educational opportunities for adults as well as children. Presentations are being given in their home communities which are sure to spark more enthusiasm to support PNG. There is already talk of some of them returning on a team in the near future.”

Leslie Bell said: “Because of such a wonderful, successful adventure we had, Bob and I will be thrilled to return to PNG, hopefully next year…We can never give enough to repay what we have received.”

Since it was formed in 1983, Habitat for Humanity Papua New Guinea has built and rehabilitated more than 1,170 houses. A typical Habitat house is made of timber with a corrugated metal sheet roof. Due to heavy rains, the house is raised on stilts a meter or more off the ground to keep it dry. The area under the house is used for storage, community gatherings and livestock. Habitat encourages home partners to cut and mill their own timber from their own land. To ensure sustainability, Habitat has developed a reforestation project; two trees are planted for every tree used for a Habitat house.