“Tremendous sense of accomplishment”

By Mallory Kenna, Learn and Build Experience volunteer

When I was a little girl, I told my mom I wanted to go to Africa. Then as a young teenager, I told my mom that I wanted to do mission work in another country. When I was recently selected to participate in Habitat’s Learn and Build Experience in Mozambique, both of these dreams came true.

I live in Little Falls, Minn., a town of about 8,500 people in a mostly rural and poor county. After a 15-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg then another hourlong flight to Maputo, I was definitely ready for food and a shower. I also knew that I needed some rest and time to adjust to a totally different time zone. When I saw the sign saying “Maputo” at the airport I had mixed emotions — excitement, nervousness and exhaustion.

The first day we got off the bus in Chicumbane, the “Mamas” started singing to us immediately, and it hit me that I was actually in another country to help people who really need it. They were so warm and welcoming, and even though none of the people spoke English, it was so very obvious that they appreciated what we were there to do.

We were introduced to the family the first day. It was an amazing experience to see how very shy they all were when we first met, but by the dedication ceremony we were all one extended family. One day, mother Melita and I went to get water together. Melita was very patient in showing me how to get the water into the large bucket and then carry it back to the build site on my head! She started to laugh at me because I was walking so slowly and probably looked ridiculous to her, but her laugh made me laugh at myself.

When I went to Africa, I had very little personal experience with building a house. But by the third day, our team was all in sync. We set daily goals and worked very hard to make sure that the house would be done by the time we had to leave. It was very cool to see our progress with every block we laid.

While building the home, I realized that their community was really a village of one big family. Everybody took care of each other. Every day was a happy day with all the children — the kids would make me smile and laugh just by being children. Every day, I learned something new. They taught me their language and how to play new games at lunch. They showed us where they went to school and shared their family.

One of the most moving things for me was the dedication ceremony when our team laid our hands on the house we helped build to bless it. Surrounded by the team members, the Mamas and the kids I had become friends with, I realized that I was actually part of this tremendous sense of accomplishment. I had made a difference, a difference to other people — the difference of a lifetime.