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How I found adventure with meaning with Global Village

By Lindsey Herbel

Lindsey (center) with a Habitat family in Thailand

My mom always used to say that when you’re feeling restless you should do something small and temporary, like get a new haircut, instead of something dramatic with long-lasting effects. Five years ago I was feeling restless and a new hairstyle wasn’t going to cut it. I was 25 years old and had gone directly from college into graduate school. My type A personality guaranteed that I would continue to enjoy the seemingly endless years of school, but something was missing.

I’d only left the U.S. a couple of times and always played it safe, never considering taking time away from school to backpack or save up money to go on long excursions. I realized I had always talked about exploring the world and experiencing other cultures but never followed through. I started to do some research and quickly realized that I wanted adventure, but I wanted it to be a deeply meaningful adventure. When I read about Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program I knew I’d found something I wanted to try. It changed my life.

My first trip was to Honduras. Because I’d played it safe for so long I was nervous to be traveling alone to a developing country. Coordinating an international meet spot in a city of millions for 15 travelers was like something out of the show Amazing Race, but our fearless trip leader managed it and all of my fears about being alone immediately melted away after I met our group.

There is something incredibly special about a collection of people that travel from all over the world to build a house for a family they’ve never met. In Honduras, and on every build since, I built homes and lifelong friendships with wonderful people that I likely never would have met without Habitat. Of all of the people that I’ve met on my trips, the families we build with have left the biggest imprint on my heart.

In Honduras we worked on several homes in a neighborhood. The day before our build, we visited the current home of a family that would be moving into one of the Habitat houses. A family of five was living in a tiny shack littered with jugs to collect rainwater because there were giant gaps in the metal roof. Although we were there to improve conditions and create a sense of hopefulness, there is a good bit of you that gets crushed by the low quality of life some of these people have. We worked with fervour all week for that family.

Lindsey (right) with a family in Guatemala

We hauled bricks, mixed concrete and dug septic tank ditches in the hot sun. We were happy to do it. Each morning we arrived to the build site with a renewed sense of purpose and proudly built alongside the men, women and kids that would live in the homes. Each day we left sweaty and exhausted, but filled with joy and happiness. I met one of my best friends in the world, Laura, on that Habitat trip.

The next year Laura and I traveled to Indonesia for a Habitat build. We worked alongside a family with two young daughters who were desperately missing their mother. She was in New Zealand working on a kiwi farm; she made the choice to sacrifice months away from her daughters because she could make 10 times more money in New Zealand, and thus afford to send her girls to secondary school. I’ve never been more proud to do something as I was when we helped build a home for those girls.

The following year I went to Guatemala, where we built with a young mother who worked as a schoolteacher. Last month I got back from Thailand, where we built with the most thankful, warm and gracious family that I’ve ever met. When we finished their home, the entire community came to the dedication and there was dancing in the streets and many tears of happiness shed. 

Each of the countries I’ve been to have been very different, but despite the varying array of experiences each build had to offer, there are several consistencies: the generous volunteers that come together for these builds; the incredibly hardworking locals who come out, sometimes in droves, to help build for their community; the ever grateful families, who try with every morsel of their beings to convey how happy they are that we’ve come to help them; and the feeling that even though you came to give, you’ve received more than you could ever imagine. 

On every Habitat adventure, I’ve had the opportunity to explore a new country, truly experience the culture and do something that will change the life of a family forever. Our homes are our most sacred places. They are where we spend so many of our most precious moments, and everyone deserves to have a dignified place that they are proud to call home.

After I got home from my last build, I felt - like I did five years ago - that something was missing. It certainly wasn’t adventure, because I got to ride elephants in Thailand! After a lot of reflection, I realized that one of the most important components of the Habitat experience is the trip leader. A truly excellent trip leader can make a Habitat build an unforgettable experience filled with meaningful work, lifelong connections and endless joy. The prospect of helping people find the kind of adventure and love that I have from the Global Village program is incredibly exciting. I just signed up for trip leader training and can’t wait for the next Habitat adventure. 

Lindsey Herbel has volunteered on four Global Village trips. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.