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Lessons learned from an international build

By Michael Mongeon
Habitat for Humanity International sustainable building learning specialist




I have volunteered with Habitat for nearly two decades, at home and abroad. As rewarding as U.S. volunteering is, my curiosity about volunteering internationally was too great to ignore. How would building Habitat houses overseas on a Global Village mission trip be different?

I picked Brazil because I had spent time there before, and I adore Brazilian culture. My expectations for the trip were to help families; meet new people; learn new construction techniques; experience a different side of Brazil; and, finally, the somewhat selfish reward of feeling good about helping others.

Our team was incredibly diverse. We came from three time zones and ranged in age from high school to nearly retirement. We each brought different perspectives and life experiences to the team. Incredibly, everybody bonded almost immediately!

The labor was tough, but we accomplished everything we were asked to do and more. We moved enormous piles of dirt, sand and rock; mixed countless loads of concrete for the foundations; set block walls; and even helped with the roof.

What really set this experience apart, however, was spending the week working with the future homeowner families. On their day off, they worked with us on their future homes, accomplished much more than we could, and laughed and smiled throughout the day. Their joyous attitude was contagious!

I traveled to Brazil expecting to feel sorry for these struggling families. Instead, I have incredible respect and admiration for their phenomenal accomplishments and feel grateful for the opportunity to have learned from them and become friends. They survive on less than what some Americans spend on morning coffee, yet they truly make the most of what they have. They also understand keenly some of life’s most important things like God, family and friends.

Yes, I feel good that I was able to share my financial resources and labor to help the families of Feira Nova, Brazil, improve their lives. However, I appreciate much more the lessons I brought home: to be grateful for my blessings and to stay focused on what is important.


Stuart Knappmiller wrote:

Thanks for this honest assessment of your work. Stuart

Andree Cote wrote:

I think it's wonderful what you have done and I've always been interested in being part of a "build team" overseas. How long are the "build" commitments? Are you there for a few weeks or a few months? The logistics would take a bit of working out...
Thanks in advance for the information and for sharing your experience. wrote:

Andree, you can learn more about Global Village build opportunities at Time commitments vary, and there are all sorts of possibilities!

mr.thomas Ryan wrote:


Robin Cote wrote:

Michael, your story is both touching and admirable. Although I've yet to work with HFH, I did have experience with the people of Guam and their different villages. Following big storms/tornadoes, each squadron would send their delegates to help repair the disarray, and believe me there was plenty in the 2 years I was there while in the Air Force. Please keep up the good work, and hopefully many more will follow in your footsteps.

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