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Habitat for Humanity Builds Houses and Friendships

In April 2004 I traveled to Matagalpa, Nicaragua with a group of 17 people of all ages from England, Canada, and the U.S. to participate in a Habitat for Humanity International project. This nondenominational Christian non-profit organization, open to people of all backgrounds, races, and religious affiliations, offers a series of short-term trips overseas building houses for those in need.

While it helps to have some construction skills, it is not necessary. Habitat homes are built differently in every country and much of the work is done by unskilled labor. Many of our team members had also gained experience from their previous overseas projects with Habitat.

Our Matagalpa project consisted of 10 days of laying brick, mixing cement, and hauling dirt—all without the aid of any mechanical tools. Working alongside a local foreman and the future homeowners, we learned how to build a house from the ground up. Our team’s donation, which is included in the trip fees, paid for the construction of three houses. While trips can be pricy, ranging from $1,200 to $4,000, I was highly rewarded by seeing my time, money, and labor benefit people whom I had come to know and befriend. Several of the participants in our group easily raised all of the money for their trips from tax-deductible donations from family, friends, churches, and civic groups.

It was an invaluable experience to work with a family of eight and then to share in their pride and joy as they moved into their new 2-bedroom home. Although the house was only 36 square meters, it was a big step up from the substandard housing in which they had previously lived.

In addition to the fees that Habitat volunteers pay, the homeowners also contribute to their houses with an interest-free mortgage costing $20 a month for ten years. The money is then used to pay for the construction of future Habitat homes. In Nicaragua, Habitat has built more than 3,000 houses.

There was much work to be done, but we also found time to play and explore. Our team was offered a backdoor entrance into Matagalpa; we were welcomed into the neighborhoods where we worked and shared house visits, food, and fiestas. While speaking the local language is not a necessity, it is helpful, and it provided a good opportunity for me to practice my rusty Spanish. We also visited nearby areas of interest on a several-days trip arranged by a local Habitat affiliate.

If you yearn for global adventure and find service appealing, I highly recommend you try your hand at building a house overseas, and, in the process, you build long-lasting friendships. I plan to register for another trip as soon as possible.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity and its worldwide projects, visit www.habitat.org.

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