More Than 300 International And Local Volunteers Build 19 Houses With Habitat Partner Families
Group photo of volunteers, families, Habitat staff and local workers after the end of the six-day build. All photos by Mikel Flamm.
ULAANBAATAR, 18 July 2012: For years, Holly Van Dyk had been wanting to travel to Mongolia. The 59-year-old retired nurse realized her dream when she volunteered for Habitat for Humanity’s Blue Sky Build from 2 to 7 July.
Holly was among more than 190 international volunteers as well as 150 local volunteers who worked alongside 19 families in Khan-Uul district, about an hour’s bus ride from the capital Ulaanbaatar. An additional house was completed during a test build in June.
International volunteers came from countries such as New Zealand, the United States, South Korea, Australia, China (Hong Kong), Cambodia, Nepal , Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, India and the United Kingdom.
Each day, locally based volunteers also lent a helping hand at the build site. On the last two days of the build, David Lawson, the Australian Consul-General in Mongolia, his wife and three children built with volunteers and families.
The Blue Sky Build houses, at 32 square meters each, are constructed with polystyrene blocks which have better insulating properties than cement blocks. Less wood is used in the construction of the houses. Each 32 sq. m. house also comes with an energy-efficient stove. The heat generated by burning coal in the stove can last for eight hours, compared to two hours with ordinary stoves.
(Top) U.S. volunteer Holly Van Dyk (left) with Altanzagas Zagsaa smoothen the external walls of Altanzagas’ new house.
“Habitat for Humanity Mongolia is fantastic. It’s a tremendous effort to build 20 houses in one week. It’s very well-organized and similar to the U.S,” said Holly. She started volunteering with Habitat in 2007 and had been to Habitat builds in Biloxi, Baltimore and West Virginia.
By the end of the six-day build, Holly nearly did not want to leave. “This is a really special week. We have such a wonderful home partner. Altanzagas is a real doer, a real worker. She is the Mongolian version of me,” said Holly.
Although they don’t speak the same language, Holly and 38-year-old Altanzagas Zagsaa bonded through hand gestures and simple words. Holly taught Altanzagas how to count from one to ten in English while the latter brought an English dictionary to the build site to learn from the volunteers.
At house dedication, Altanzagas went into the house before welcoming the volunteers in. Through a translator, she said: “My heart is full of joy and gratitude. I can’t express in words how happy I am.”
Sharing the positive experience was local volunteer Mandakh Yadamsuren, a 23-year-old training coordinator. She works at Wagner Asia, a company dealing in heavy equipment for industries such as mining and construction. Her company sent staff daily to work on a house during the build. “Habitat is doing good work in Mongolia,” said Mandakh.
While completing the build was a top priority, some volunteers were enterprising enough to recognize fund-raising opportunities. Kate White, from New Zealand, was a good example. Armed with a United States flag two days before house dedications, she went around the build site asking for bids. American volunteer Lucy Shen McDermott put in the highest bid of US$750 and donated the amount to Habitat for Humanity Mongolia. The next day saw Kate repeating the feat. More than US$2,000 was raised which went to HFH Mongolia.
The Global Village volunteers from the U.S. made a mark by raising an additional US$20,000 for HFH Mongolia on top of their usual donations. “Team leaders learn about fund-raising in their team leader training. We don’t demand it of everybody but ask it of everyone (who come for the build),” said Bill Fitzgerald, a long-term volunteer with Habitat’s Global Village department.
All efforts, big and small, counted toward transforming the lives of the Mongolian families who would otherwise be still living in cramped rented apartments or gers (traditional tents) with scant protection against the harsh winter.
Holly summed up the week’s experience: “This is what I came here for and it didn’t disappoint.”
The first Blue Sky Build took place in June 2010 in Bayanzurkh district, about 15 km. from the capital Ulaanbaatar. About 300 international and local volunteers built 30 houses together with Habitat families.
Established in 1999, Habitat for Humanity Mongolia has programs in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan, Erdenet and Khangai to help families build, renovate or repair their homes. To date, Habitat for Humanity Mongolia has built, renovated or repaired more than 2,000 houses, and aims to assist an additional 1,000 families by 2015. For more information, to donate, or to volunteer, please visit hfh.mn , ‘like’ HFH Mongolia’s Facebook page at facebook.com/hfhmongolia.