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.