“We are all neighbors”

Mauricio Mello set out to prove that no matter where we live or where we come from, we are all neighbors.

The 45-year-old recently felt compelled to do something more with this life, felt the need to serve others outside of himself and his family. After weeks of research, he decided to take a Global Village trip to the farthest and most different place he could imagine, some 7,000 miles from his home in Brazil. He would go to Alaska.

When his father heard the news, he asked if Mello was crazy. Why would he do that? Once Mello explained, his father changed his question. “Where do I sign up?” he asked with a grin. While Mello’s dad was ultimately unable to join him in Alaska, he eagerly awaits a second chance.

His father wasn’t the only one who initially questioned Mauricio’s decision to go to Alaska when there is so much need closer to his home. Mello asked himself the same question. How would traveling to Alaska make a difference in Brazil? He decided he would match the funds he raised for his trip using Habitat’s personal fundraising platform Share.Habitat — US$1,000 — and give that amount to Habitat Brazil.

After about 15 hours on a plane, Mello arrived at his destination. He had never seen snow. Below-zero temperatures and freezing winds were not conditions he had ever encountered, much less while doing manual labor. The environment was completely different from anything he was used to, he says, but a feeling of solidarity was a common thread that connected everyone. And that solidarity made everything easy.

Mello didn’t want to reduce his trip to just sharing his experience and a few pictures with those closest to him. He wanted to share what Habitat and the Global Village program are all about in order to help more people understand what they could do for others. On a blog named Somos Todos Vizinhos — “We are all neighbors” — he recorded every detail from his journey: the moment he decided to go, building houses in conditions so different from his native land, his experiences with volunteers and families, the moment he had to return home.

In the end, Mello confesses, his feelings about the whole experience are selfish. He is sure he received more than he gave. “In addition to the experience itself and the desire to help others and travel with a purpose,” he says, “I believe that this was also an intensely inner journey. But no matter where you are headed, or however long your journey, the destination is ultimately the same: home.”

Vivian Pastor