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Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

May 8, 2013 to May 18, 2013

Do you love to travel and are looking to add a little something extra to your holiday? Come build homes in Ethiopia, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Ethiopia is rich with history and is home to lovely, welcoming people, colorful and evocative art and music and a storied coffee culture, not to mention the amazing food! No building experience is necessary, but be prepared to be open, adventuresome and flexible, to have fun and to make a host of new friends that you will have for life.


gv13134-1.jpgA typical shack made of scrap metal and wood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Country profile


About Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a land of dramatic variations—from lush mountain highlands to low-lying deserts to one of the highest peaks on the African continent. The Nile River winds its way through this country before flowing to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Unfortunately, Ethiopia is also one of the poorest countries in the world with the majority of its population leading destitute lives and living in poverty housing. A recent United Nations survey ranked the country 169 out of 175 in terms of quality of life. Ethiopia’s problems are attributed mainly to frequent famine, civil conflicts, political turmoil and foreign aggression.

About Debre Birhan
Debre Birhan lies about three hours outside of the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. The high altitude means cool mornings and evenings. It has a population around 95,000, and the main religion is Orthodox Christianity. Habitat started work here in 2005.

When not on site you may visit Trinity Church. In 1425, the king saw a light for 10 days (this may have been Halley’s Comet) after he killed his son for converting to a non-Christian faith. He built the church and his son is buried nearby. Clergy from all over congregated there, and Debre Birhan became an intellectual centre. Many books were translated here and Debre Birhan became known as the center of the Ethiopian Renaissance.

About Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia 
Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia (HFHE) began construction in 1993 and has since expanded to build houses in 11 communities. HFHE has attempted to integrate its operations with those of local community-based organizations in order to increase effectiveness.

There is a great need for simple, decent and affordable housing in Ethiopia. HFHE defines substandard housing as a home with dirt floors, leaking roof, breaking chika, no windows and doors or lack of sanitation. A staggering 90 percent of the population has no access to decent sanitation facilities, and 73 percent does not have safe drinking water, causing disease to run rampant. 

Types of construction for volunteers
Volunteer manual labor helps the national program to reduce house costs by 10-20 percent for partner families. Typical work for a GV team may include mixing mortar and concrete, carrying construction materials, fixing chicken wires, digging foundations, making bricks, carrying water, and more.

HFHE’s houses vary from 22-36 square meters in size and are built from stabilized soil blocks, hollow concrete blocks and fired bricks. HFHE also constructs improved traditional style chika houses, which are built mostly of wood, soil, sand and stone. All houses have a latrine in a separate block and are built in such a manner that families can add additional rooms in the future. 

Standard itinerary
(14-day itinerary)
Day 1: Depart home country.
Day 2: Arrive in Addis Ababa; dinner and overnight in Addis Ababa. 
Days 3-4: Breakfast at hotel; travel to host project site; welcome and orientation with local staff and dinner with homeowner families; work from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. with lunch on-site; free time in the evenings; dinner; team activities.
Day 5: Visit a local church and enjoy other cultural activities. 
Days 6-9: Breakfast served before traveling to work site; work with lunch on-site; free time in the evenings; dinner; team activities. 
Day 10: Breakfast served before traveling to work site; work with lunch on-site. Farewell celebration with homeowner families.
Day 11: Travel to Addis Ababa; free time; depart for home. 
There will be other opportunities for cultural activities in the evenings, during free time and during days off.

Most teams stay at the Eva Hotel, a relatively new hotel that serves both Ethiopian and European dishes. Teams will spend their first and last nights at a hotel in Addis Ababa. All three meals and bottled water will be provided each day. 

Program cost
(For more details about what is included in this cost, visit Global Village program cost.)

Build a better world: Take the Global Village Challenge
Habitat for Humanity International is challenging Global Village volunteers to make an even greater impact on the global issue of poverty housing. We are asking all GV teams to help us raise an additional $1.1 million in the coming year to support Habitat’s building projects worldwide. Take up the challenge! Join us in sharing our story and building a better world!

Team leader
Elise is a project manager and part-time story writer living in Seattle. She’s traveled quite a bit in Europe, Asia and east Africa, and has worked with Habitat in Tanzania on home and school builds, and most recently in Addis Ababa on a latrine project. This is her first trip as a team leader. 

Please contact Elise at

To apply for a GV trip, please follow the Application Instructions.

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