Guatemala trip

Volunteer trip experience

By Natalie Martinez, Habitat Global Village volunteer, real estate agent and registered architect

Housing is a way I connect with people. From my job as an architect to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, home building has always interested me because the places we live become the backdrops to the stories of our lives.

I can’t talk about housing without talking about children or my own childhood. My mother was a single parent, at times struggling to make ends meet. Like Habitat families, she had a deep desire to improve her life situation for herself and her children and a willingness to make a home for herself, however modest it might have seemed to others.

One of my vivid childhood memories is watching her demolish a wall in our 715-square-foot home with a sledgehammer. She wanted to remove the wall to make the dining room bigger. With every swing, I watched her become more empowered. When she was done, she enlisted me to help haul the debris to the backyard.

Looking back, this was a pivotal moment for me. I watched a woman taking action on her desire to change her life for the better. Even if it was just a wall dividing one room from another, I became a participant in making it happen. I began to understand that when we have a home, we start to own our personal stories and write our own futures.

When I started my company a few years ago, I made a promise to myself that my success should be paired with gratitude and giving back. Because of my experiences as a child on the fringes of poverty, the way I stay grounded is by helping my neighbors in my community and volunteering with Habitat.

Throughout my professional life, my volunteerism and financial support has gone to nonprofits that serve women and children. When I learned about an opportunity to build in Guatemala through one of Habitat’s Global Village volunteer trips, it seemed like the perfect fit that brought together my personal and professional interests.

I knew the trip to Guatemala would be a more meaningful experience with others, so I enlisted people who work with me to join the adventure. It was the ideal setting for a team-building experience. Now that we’re back, I know that our newfound global perspective and deeper understanding of housing issues for those living in poor conditions will make our team more sensitive and thoughtful designers.

I focused on the trip as a work activity and underestimated how personally meaningful it would be. At the beginning of the week, one of the future homeowners prayed that the work we were about to do would be a blessing to us, as it would be for them. I had never thought of work as a form of a blessing, but those words stayed with me and resonated even more by the end of the week.

We’re looking forward to the next Global Village trip so that I can enlist even more people to join me on this deeply rewarding home-building journey. I like that with every house I design or build, I’m a part of someone else’s story of success.

Interested in traveling with Habitat to work alongside a family building or improving a place they can call home? Learn more about our Global Village volunteer trips.