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Putting words into action

By Tracie Troha

For Shelley Ulmer and her Global Village team of 10 international volunteers, World Habitat Day on Oct. 7 was more than simply a day of reflection about the basic right to adequate shelter. The team put their words into action by building decent, safe homes for Habitat families in Quezon City, Philippines.

Shelley Ulmer’s Word Habitat Day team in the Philippines

From Oct. 4-13 – just prior to the earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan that struck the central Philippines – Ulmer’s Global Village team volunteered in Habitat Philippines’ Bistekville community, which aims to provide affordable walk-up apartments and row houses to 353 families currently living in dangerous areas, squatting on private land or in overcrowded homes with other families.

Ulmer said her team’s World Habitat Day celebration was entirely devoted to building. Some of their tasks included sifting sand to make concrete, carrying bricks and plastering walls. Habitat Philippines staff also gave the team with an overview of the Bistekville project and explained how their work connected to World Habitat Day’s purpose of reminding the world that everyone has a responsibility to shape the future of towns and cities.

“A Habitat homeowner (in Bistekville) showed us a video and shared her personal story,” Ulmer said. “She was so thankful that Habitat partnered with the local government to build this type of housing. She’s now president of the homeowners association at Bistekville.”

Ulmer’s team was a mix of new and returning Global Village volunteers and included a British person who lived in Japan, a citizen of Singapore and a dual citizen of the U.S. and India.

“One of my volunteers, who’d been on five Global Village trips, said this trip was really special,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer said one of her most memorable moments was visiting a slum area along a riverfront. She saw people living in rough conditions in homes that were susceptible to flooding.

“They were happy-go-lucky people, yet you could definitely see they weren’t healthy,” Ulmer said. “Jutting up against the slums was a beautiful Habitat community and we could see that the (Habitat homeowners) happy and healthy and thriving.”

Ulmer, who lives in Tampa, Fla. area and has lead 14 Global Village teams, said this was her second time celebrating World Habitat Day on a Habitat build site. She previously led a World Habitat Day trip to Chile in 2008. She is planning another Global Village trip to Chile in March and a return trip to the Philippines in May.

The United Nations General Assembly designated the first Monday in October as World Habitat Day. The first World Habitat Day was celebrated in 1985.

Tracie Troha is a program communications writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International.