Blogs Trips and Excursions

Student Blog: Reflections on Habitat for Humanity Kenya Trip

09 April 2019

“Nothing could stop us – not even a wheelbarrow filled with cement!”

Fernanda, Grade 11, Mexico, vividly brings to life the experience of being part of Surval’s charity fundraising and trip to Kenya to build a house with Habitat for Humanity: her feelings beforehand, her impressions and emotions during the trip, and her reflections on the impact this trip has had on who she is as a person.

BEFORE…

We are leaving for the Habitat for Humanity trip to Kenya in only a few days and I have a bunch of mixed feelings. I do feel excited for it because I enjoy doing community service, and the feeling of knowing that I am helping someone else. But, on the other hand, I am really nervous – I do not know what is awaiting me and how everything is going to work out…

I signed up for the Kenya trip because, for me, the opportunity to do charity work has always been a gift; it brings out the best parts of myself and allows me to share these with people who need it. Doing charity work can often be a challenge, especially in this case where we will be building a house with our own hands. With this said, the Kenya trip will be a personal challenge that I will need to face, and I am really excited. I know that as a team, we will be able to finish what we need to do and support each other. I think that it is really important to support Habitat for Humanity because it is an association that supports less fortunate people by building them a home and thus giving them an opportunity to have a better life. What they are doing is something that changes people’s lives drastically for the better.

We have prepared for the trip in many different ways. The whole school has contributed to the fundraising in order to help the family in Kenya, in addition to donating items for them. I personally have prepared physically for this trip by keeping up my fitness level by skiing regularly with the school and going to the gym. Moreover, I have prepared myself mentally by researching different houses built by Habitat for Humanity in order to give myself a better idea of what is waiting for me out there. I have various personal aims for this trip, but the most important one is to give my most effort at all times. I want to finish this trip knowing that I put my best into it and took the best out of it. Another personal goal that I have for this trip is to really get to know the people at the site and to learn from them the different customs of their lifestyle and culture. 

 

DURING…

Arriving at Homa Bay, Kenya, was when we all had our reality check: it was a huge juxtaposition of really happy people smiling and waving at us, yet in really sad conditions – no houses made of bricks or stores to buy some fruit. All around Homa Bay there is a lot of green – huge quantities of trees in all shapes and sizes combined with a lot of agriculture and harvesting. In the streets were people of all ages walking and screaming “mozungo!” (white person) whenever they saw us. They do not say this in any racist way; it is because for many of them, it is their first time seeing a white person. The joy of everyone can be felt in the happy vibe and seen in the big smiles every face had. When we arrived at the site where we were going to be working, the whole community kindly performed a welcoming ritual of singing and dancing. At the site itself, there was nothing except a small house made out of mud where nine people lived.

The Habitat for Humanity team that we worked with were the most welcoming and amazing people I’ve ever met. They were always there with a smile and willing to help us in whatever we needed. There was a team of engineers contracted by Human for Humanity, in order to supervise the planning and construction of the house. Many people from the local community also arrived and helped, showing their happiness that Helen, the woman whose family we were building a house for, is going to have a better lifestyle. There were also two volunteers that helped with the cooking and prepared a meal for all of us every day. Interacting with all these different people was one of the best experiences of the whole trip; they had so many stories to tell and jokes that made my day. They were excited to teach us Swahili (their native language) and enthusiastic about learning some Spanish from us. Their enthusiasm and sense of fun was really inspiring for all of us.

We also met different people outside the site that were really generous in their actions, always wanting the best for us. There were several times when we were walking up the road heading back to our hotel and someone needed to pee, so we would stop at different houses of people we did not know. All of them were so welcoming; they took us to their toilet, which was a hole in the ground. After everyone did their necessities, there was a man with a bucket full of clean water willing to share some of that with us. They did this because they wanted to help us if they could, because it was their instinct right from their heart. The Kenyans were all so happy always; we could see their big smiles while we were walking in the streets. The phrase “less is more” was really accurate in this location.

When it comes to the physical work we did, this was a huge part of the experience – building a house is not as easy as it can sound. We started from nothing – just a pile of dirt – and finished up with completed walls and a floor. This involved a long process of mixing cement, rocks and dirt, carrying bricks and rocks in wheelbarrows, and moving huge amounts of soil. The biggest challenge was standing up the next day! – we were all sore from head to toe. Each one of us started the mornings walking like we were eighty years old and not being able to go down the stairs.  However, once we got to work on the site, all the pain wore off; we had a mindset of, “When you feel you can’t do it anymore, push harder.”  Another challenge we faced was the weather: the hot sun shone directly onto the house and no breeze entered the site. From the moment we stepped out of the bus, we were all sweating non-stop, but seeing the positive attitudes of the people at the site made us forget all about our own discomfort. Seeing how many people were contributing to building this house for Helen and her family made us work even harder and try to be better, to show how we are strong women and can work well.

There was a drastic change in how much we were able to do over the course of the build. Everyone saw us grow in strength and praised our determination. At the beginning, the men in particular couldn’t accept that we were girls who were going to be doing “men’s work”. They would ask, “Wow, are you going to carry all of that?”, appearing to doubt our strength; by the end of the trip, they would be piling even more into our arms saying, “You can carry more than this; I am going to give you more!” They saw us grow in strength and realised that women are capable of doing work that previously they would have thought only men to be capable of. As Monica from Habitat for Humanity stated at the end of the trip: “We are glad you came to show how woman can work equal – or more – than men.” It was also inspiring to visit the completed house that the Surval students built last year, and to imagine how much better home life will be for Helen and her family when they move into the house that we have built for them.

Apart from the experience of working on the build, some of the other trip highlights were the opportunity to discover some of the nature, food and culture of Kenya. On the last day, we rewarded ourselves with a safari trip. Seeing animals like giraffes and white rhinos so near was incredible. We ate in different places and each day there was a different meal waiting for us. Most of our team was Mexican and the food in Kenya was really similar to Mexican food, so we all enjoyed it and felt a little bit like being at home. The food we ate the most was rice, beans and chapati. It is interesting to discover the similarities between countries as well as the differences. One of the most incredible things on the whole trip was spending time with the local community, getting to know each one of them and be able to play and enjoy their laughs. As a team we learned a lot from them, not just about their culture and lifestyle, but from their happy, kind, generous attitudes too.  

 

AFTERWARDS…

I truly believe this experience has had a big impact on me as a person; it has created a totally new perspective of the world for me. It has made me a prouder and stronger woman; we were a group of nine girls and we built a house on our own. Nothing could stop us – not even a wheelbarrow filled with cement! Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity has changed me into becoming a person who is grateful for what she has; I can say I appreciate everything more.

At the same time, it had a powerful effect on me to see that the local people, who had so little – their homes were just shacks built from aluminium – were so happy and so generous with us and each other; they were amazing. They don’t have many material possessions, and yet they seemed much more content with life than so many people who have lots of “things”. I think it is important for all of us to see that materialism doesn’t bring happiness.

By realising what I have and how little they have in comparison in terms of food and access to water, it has made me become someone who is more aware about what I consume and what I waste, often without even meaning to. Since the trip, I have changed many of my habits such as taking shorter showers and serving myself only what I think I am going to eat, then going back for more if necessary, rather than throwing anything away. I learned this after seeing the philosophy of sharing that the Kenyan people had: we would be holding onto three bits of bread each, and then realise that the Kenyans would be sharing one bit between several people; it is so much better if we all have just a little bit less, rather than one person having lots and others too little. In my opinion, all of the girls have changed into being more generous and loving, and this change will hopefully become a permanent part of who we are.  

To anyone who is considering taking part in a Habitat for Humanity project, I would truly recommend you do this; wherever in the world it is, I can assure you that it will be an incredible and unforgettable experience. Habitat for Humanity as an organisation are trustworthy and wise; they plan really well and do enough research to know that the person they are helping is the one who most needs it. They are careful not to waste any money that has been donated to them; for example, in order to save money, we searched and collected rocks from the streets rather than having to buy them. Moreover, donating money to Habitat for Humanity is one of those donations where you will have the personal satisfaction of later seeing the results, and knowing that the money you contributed has changed someone’s life. One of the biggest challenges I faced was emotional; it really hit me hard to see the mud house where the family were living when we arrived; to picture in my mind nine people living in that tiny shack with no clean water nor locks to be secure. By everyone at Surval contributing to the fundraising, and by the girls and teachers who contributed their time and effort at the house building itself, we have transformed the lives of this family for the better. There really is no better feeling than knowing this.