190 International Volunteers For Habitat For Humanity Mongolia’s Blue Sky Build
Together With Habitat Families, They Will Complete 19 Environmentally Friendly, Energy-Efficient Houses
(Top) Welcome for the 190 volunteers who include a team of Korean students (bottom) sponsored by Nonghyup Foundation. All photos by Mikel Flamm.
ULAANBAATAR, 2 July 2012: International volunteers for Habitat for Humanity Mongolia’s Blue Sky Build II arrived to a rousing welcome on the first day of the build on 2 July 2012.
Of the 190 volunteers, the largest contingents come from New Zealand and the United States. Teams from South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, Cambodia and Nepal make up the rest of volunteers.
The cheers and clapping of Habitat staff and workers on both sides drew broad smiles from the volunteers.
Once volunteers received their briefing on safety guidelines and construction schedule, it was non-stop activity of sifting sand, mixing mortar and laying blocks. Their task for the first day was to build the wall up to the fourth level of polystyrene blocks.
Habitat home partner families worked hard alongside volunteers to build 19 houses in Khan-Uul district, about an hour’s ride from the capital Ulaanbaatar. One house has already been completed during a test build in June.
Adya Tsendsuren, 28, continuously sifted sand and moved blocks on a hot day. Together with her cousin, she was helping to build a Habitat house for her mother and her older sister who has three children.
“I am working hard to make the house beautiful,” said Tsendsuren who works as a French translator during the tourist season. She managed to communicate with the Kiwi and American volunteers working on the house through a volunteer who speaks French.
Tsendsuren is contributing “sweat equity” or her labor to build a Habitat house for her mother and older sister.
It means a lot to Tsendsuren that volunteers came all the way to help her family build a house, especially as her family has three single mothers―both her mother and older sister are widows while Tsendsuren is divorced. She said: “I feel closer to and more comfortable with the volunteers than with tourists.”
Many of the international volunteers are building with Habitat for the first time. Among them is the Antis family from the United States. Charles Antis, president of Antis Roofing & Waterproofing, is on the board of Habitat for Humanity Orange County, an affiliate in the U.S. His son and daughter are also on his team.
Charles said: “Habitat has such a great energy which gets everyone involved.” Two months ago, his company built a shed for a pre-school in Orange County and “mimicked Habitat” by raising the walls. “In the U.S., raising the walls is a defining moment. When we put the roofing on at the end of the week, we have created a safe and dry home,” said Charles.
For other first-time volunteers such as Andrew Hii, a 33-year-old Australian living in Melbourne, the Blue Sky Build offers a hands-on experience. He already donates to Habitat for Humanity Australia every month but decides to take a concrete step. “It’s quite easy to donate and forget about it. I wanted to see first-hand what Habitat does.”
Volunteers such as Andrew Hii (top) is building with Habitat for the first time because he wants to see first-hand what Habitat does. Others such Erdembileg ‘Eric’ Tsedev wants to help his fellow Mongolians. Helping him to lay a block is Ronald Pusic, his colleague at PwC Mongolia.
In addition to the international teams, dozens of locally based volunteers also lent a hand. Among them is Erdembileg ‘Eric’ Tsedev, 27, an auditing consultant from PricewaterhouseCoopers Mongolia. “As Mongolians, we should have a sense of ownership over our own people. We don’t have a lot of people; it’s not a problem helping a few people living in hardship.”
Over the six-day build which ends on 7 July, more local volunteers are expected to turn up. They range from students from the local Technical and Technological College to Peace Corps volunteers based in Mongolia.
The houses to be completed during the Blue Sky Build will be environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient. These homes will be better suited to tackling harsh Mongolian winters.
Houses are built with polystyrene blocks, using less wood and, most importantly, have better insulation so the quantity of fossil fuel needed to keep homes warm is reduced. This in turn leads to a reduction in carbon and toxic emissions, and the money saved by families can be spent on food, clothes, school and medical needs instead.
Each home built during the Blue Sky Build measures 32 square meters, and has a bedroom, living room, kitchen and a toilet outside. Each family will also have access to a small garden.
Following Habitat for Humanity’s principle of offering a ‘hand up, not a hand out’, home partners will put in their own labor and contribute monthly payments over the next few years. Repayments will go into a revolving fund used to help build homes for other families.
This is the second time that Blue Sky Build is held. The inaugural event took place in Ulaanbaatar in June 2010 when 300 volunteers built 41 houses alongside low-income families.
Habitat for Humanity Mongolia was established in 1999 to address the need for decent and affordable housing. Housing programs in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, Erdenet and Khangai utilize a variety of housing microfinance models to help families build, renovate or repair their homes. Housing programs have also been initiated in Bulgan and Khenti provinces. To date, Habitat for Humanity Mongolia has built, renovated or repaired more than 2,000 houses, and strategically plans to assist an additional 1,000 families by 2015. For more information, to donate, or to volunteer, please visit hfh.mn, ‘like’ HFH Mongolia’s Facebook page at facebook.com/hfhmongolia.