Habitat for Humanity Chile “rocks”
Why is a Canadian forlorn due to Habitat Chile withdrawal? In this article, Global Village volunteer team leader Lindsay Killen tells us that it all comes down to the people.
“The families at each of our two build sites made the whole endeavor worthwhile,” said Killen.
What an incredible experience!
We were so blessed to be assisted by very talented and caring staff in Canada and Chile, who is obviously very committed to the Habitat for Humanity mission. How else could all our interactions have been so warm, helpful and organized from our initial inquiries to our departure and debriefing?
I was really impressed by the work of [Habitat Chile staff members] Loreto and Ivan. Loreto’s organizational skills along with Ivan’s logistics and interpersonal skills were invaluable for our team. Habitat Chile is very fortunate to have Ivan, a structural engineer, on staff; I saw dozens of examples where this was evident. It was very clear to me that Ivan worked with Victor, Abraham and Mario in a very effective and productive manner and brought a lot of expertise to the planning table. Julian is a really interesting guy and I enjoyed our conversations as he welcomed and introduced me to Chile. It’s also quite apparent that a good working relationship exists between Habitat Chile and Habitat Canada staff. The coordination resulted in a very seamless transition for me as a team leader – everything seemed to go very smoothly.
Our team loved the interactions, fun and hard work that Veronique and Vicente brought to the work site every day. They both were incredibly helpful with translating, instructing and demonstrating the directions from the maestros, and were always encouraging and ready to crack a joke to keep things light. Vicente loved to challenge our Spanish skills and Veronique was attentive to the group and individual needs—always willing to go that extra mile for the team.
The families at each of our two build sites made the whole endeavor worthwhile. Understandably shy at first when invaded by raucous Canucks, it wasn’t long before these walls started coming down as the house walls began to go up. Pato’s family had such a spirit of determination and hope in the face of multiple blows to their health and well-being. We may have helped physically, but they inspired all of us with their love and compassion within such difficult circumstances. Luz’s family is also facing overwhelming challenges, and we were all touched by their need and generosity. They were always willing to work hard to help out, which made for some strong bonds between Chileans and Canadians.
Killen’s wife, Janice, hard at work.
That is the power of the Habitat model: working side by side to provide a helping hand up, not a hand-out. It deepens the cultural understanding in such a way as to become a life changing experience. For some, it was the shock of seeing an underlying joy in people who have so little in the slums of Lo Espejo; for others, it was the realization that in very different parts of the world, we all have similar needs but different opportunities to meet them. In short, we all are less likely to take those opportunities for granted.
As for our accommodations, I can’t imagine a better place in all of Santiago than Hostel Rio Amazonas. The staff was very helpful and made our stay there like a home away from home. Back in Canada, we all went through “Rio Amazonas withdrawal”. The food that Habitat staff provided each night was delicious, plentiful and nutritious for hard working volunteers. I never heard a single complaint—only compliments from satisfied customers. Thank you, Veronique for your delightful contributions each evening!
On the worksite, food was delicious and snacks and hot/cold beverages were always in good supply, so our work was always well fuelled. Overall, I felt spoiled!
A few other observations
I was not aware of such great partnerships between Habitat and organizations like FEDES in Chile, but they are impressive.
Then, there’s the energetic, charismatic and passionate Stephen. Would a wonderful evening of food, dancing, singing, culture… did I mention food? Wow. The evening of the opening ceremonies and farewell dinner was so much fun… and deliciously filling!
Maipo Valley was fantastic! Everyone has got to get out of town and visit some vineyards, the countryside, and of course, the amazing Cascada de los Animas. The hiking, horseback riding, food, vistas and relaxation was good for the body and soul.
Thanks to guest speakers in the evenings at the hostel, it was also quite an adventure for us to experience the student protests and gain insights into their struggle. (One volunteer who arrived early had gotten tear gassed while sitting in a restaurant, another almost didn’t make it to the airport!) We may not have been free to join them, but we all identified with their desire to ensure an affordable, quality education. Another thing so easy for us to take for granted.
We had great drivers to and from the worksites, airport, FEDES, etc. And I sure enjoyed the Chilean customary greeting with Miriam each morning.
We also shared fun and moving moments at the girls' orphanage. It was very touching for our team members, and was fun to let loose and play with the children. It was also heartwarming to hear how they are being cared for and given the opportunity to go to school after the traumatic experiences they had been through. I loved watching their faces and the joy expressed by both sides while they chose their gifts from Canada. These are images and memories our team members will carry for the rest of their lives.
Working on a roof top and getting lost gazing at the mountains never got old. I loved working in such beautiful surroundings and enjoyed going for hikes, wine tastings, runs, bike rides and drives through them. The best way to top that off was to go downhill skiing for a day in Valle Nevado.
I truly hope to someday join Habitat for Humanity Chile on a national build in the countryside, where I can work side by side with Chilean volunteers and Ivan, Veronique, Vicente, Loreto, Victor and all the rest. That would be an encore I’d applaud for!
By Lindsay Killen.