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Kenya charity volunteer trip 2017 with Habitat for Humanity

Posted on: 8th May 2017

KENYA 2017

We all knew that working in Kenya for Habitat for Humanity would be a powerful physical journey, but it was perhaps ultimately more demanding to prepare for the emotional challenges we would face. When we arrived at Homa Bay, we were exhausted after our twenty-four hour journey, and the first thought that came to mind the moment we left the airport was, “What are we doing here? Why did we come?”, because the environment was so overwhelming; it was completely different from anything we had experienced before – these people live in a poverty you can’t quite imagine.

There were no buildings like those we are used to seeing; even having proper walls or a backyard seemed like a luxury that sadly no one could afford. Then, as we drove from the airport to our hotel, everything got worse – “houses” built from aluminum sheets or even mud; and so, when we reached our comparatively comfortable hotel, we found ourselves feeling guilty - this contrast was a bleak reminder of the stark difference in what we have that the people around us are not lucky enough to have. I don’t mean “things”, the material luxuries that lend our lives pizza – smartphones and designer bags and expensive jewellery – but the essentials: shelter and electricity and running water. Most of all – a home. Many months ago, when we watched the Habitat for Humanity introduction video, one of those interviewed stated that: “A home is not just a house where you live; it’s a home where you get all the energy that you need in order to achieve in life everything that you can be.” This jarring visual was a reminder that not everyone in our world is fortunate enough to have a home environment that will enable them to fulfil their potential; this was the spark we needed to energise us for the journey ahead.

The next day, our first on the construction site, was a mixture of excitement tinged with apprehension; I was very happy that, after all our months of planning and fund raising, we were finally going to meet the family we would be helping, but I was scared too because I didn’t know what I was going to find there, especially knowing about the tragic circumstances of Wilikista’s life. We knew that Wilikista was an elderly woman who had lost all ten of her children to HIV, and we all wanted badly to be able to make a difference to her, and to brighten the prospects of her three grandchildren – her grand-daughters were ten and twelve, and still went to school, but her seventeen- year-old grandson had dropped out of education to help support his family. “Not a hand out; a hand up,” it says on the HFH website, and we were passionately eager to lend this woman, and her grandchildren, so near us in age, all of our hands to help.

The place where we would be working was very different from what we had imagined; we had expected it to be in a village setting, but the reality was very isolated – some distance from the nearest village. There was Wilikista’s dilapidated house and, etched deep into the rich brown earth, the foundation trenches of the new house we would be building had already been dug out. Lying nearby was a huge pile of reddish bricks, and, a small way off, were a few other of her neighbours’ houses. And that was pretty much it - the rest of the landscape was composed of vivid green trees and sprawling stretches of bush.

We were given a sweetly enthusiastic welcome: the people from the nearest village made the effort to journey to the construction site too and greet us, singing songs in Swahili and their local language, thanking God for our arrival and thanking us for being there. It was an extremely beautiful ceremony. After this, we began to work and, as we did, other worries crept into our heads – how was the food going to be? Was two weeks too much for us? How were we going to deal with the culture shock? And, as we worried about these things, some of us began to get tired and worn out due to the physical demands of the work we were doing.

However, we only had to look around to realise why we were doing this and why these people needed us to come back again and keep working with the same energy. The following days were not as hard as you would think – we fell into a routine, waking up at 7am and, each day, going to work with more energy than the day before. Then, on our first weekend, we were hit with exhaustion, and on the Monday it was like starting all over again. Despite that, we found again that each day we had more energy than the day before, and that’s how we kept going.

Our last day was bittersweet: we were exhausted and so happy that we had achieved our goal of building the integral structure of the house – the mortar, the water, the bricks and the concrete – and so happy to be going home; but we had all got along so well with the families we had worked with, and with the kids we had played with, and they had all been so happy to have us there that it made us want to stay. It was a joyous day – but we all felt sadness too. This day they made for us a beautiful ceremony, filled with gifts, speeches and songs, and we enjoyed it so much – we danced, we sang, we laughed and we had the time of our lives with the people from the village, who had all treated us like family since that very first day. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this experience was an easy one, because, frankly, it was hugely demanding, both physically and emotionally. But, when you look around and realise that you are holding the future of a family in your hands, and you see all your new friends smiling at you, you realise that all the effort is completely worth it.

I truly believe that this is an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime, because it is life changing – not only for the family you are helping, but for yourself as well.

Valeria Pacifici Sanchez, Venezuela

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