As most of you know, Mr. Right, Jordan and I lead a trip every year to a third world country for a volunteer vacation. This year we went to Cali, Colombia the last two weeks of March. It was the fifteenth such vacation for Mr. Right and me and Jordan’s sixth. Sadly, Jordan’s husband couldn’t come with us because of work.
The way this works is that Mr. Right and I pick a third-world or developing country we either want to visit or want to revisit. We then find an agency there that can put us in touch with people who need help. We have built homes for families living under tarps, painted and repaired schools, remodeled homes, and worked in orphanages. There are 20 of us who go. Some years we might have a new person or two if one of the regulars can’t make it.
We are a very diverse group. We live in England, Singapore, China, California, New York City, upstate New York, Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, and Iowa. Our ages range from 35 to 90. Our religious backgrounds are Catholic, Mormon, Quaker, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist. We are kind of like camp friends. We meet up in some foreign country each year, do some work, have some fun, and it’s as if time stood still. Mike and I met most of the people on Habitat for Humanity builds when we used to volunteer with them or on bicycling adventures.
We are not a non-profit because we don’t want to deal with paperwork and regulations. We are simply a group of people who have a little extra time and a little extra money and want to do some good in the world. The important part of it for me is that we are spreading good will. When these people we help think about Americans, they won’t think about what they have seen in old movies and television shows. They will think of us. They will think of love. It’s my simple answer to world peace. If you sweat and struggle side by side with a stranger for common good, then you can’t hate each other.
We have found that working with nuns is the most efficient way for us to get things done. Nuns seem to be “connected” in their neighborhoods, are well-respected by all, and are very organized.
People have asked us why we don’t do these projects in our own communities. Here’s my answer: I taught in an alternative school for eight years and saw how children struggled when their environment and homes were in chaos. They would move in the middle of the night to beat the rent, not have heat or running water because they couldn’t pay the bills, etc. So, when I stopped teaching, I became involved in the local Habitat for Humanity and was on their board. I knew families needed that stability. I found that there were plenty of people willing and able to do this kind of work on the local level. However, not everyone wants to or likes to travel. We LOVE it, and the more challenging it is – the better. I love being taken out of my comfort zone. So, we are glad to do good on an international basis with our own group and not through Habitat. After all, we are helping families. That’s the bottom line.
When we arrived in Cali, we were introduced to three families that were living in horrible conditions. Children were sleeping on this broken tile floor – without mattresses. Their roofs were leaking. They needed help, and we were there to provide it.
We hired local crews to help us figure out the construction process. Each country does things differently, and we need to be respectful of that and following their building practices. This time we had high school students volunteering to serve as our interpreters. It was good for them to spend time speaking English with us and to see how Americans really are.
We provided the money and the motivation to make these homes safe and livable. When we left the crews were still working to finish the projects. Sister Francell sends us photos and updates so that we are always aware of when the homes are complete.
I am pleased to report that the broken tile floor has been replaced with this concrete beauty, and there are now proper walls.
The eight little girls living in this home now have their own beds with mattresses, pillows, and sheets.
Another project that we did was to paint the center where children come to do their homework, play games,……
…..and eat their meals. We also provided 24 computers and will pay for the center’s internet connections now and in the future.
We had a team that visited many of the schools in the area. They taught the children games and helped them with their English. The children always love it.
On the last day when it’s time for us to move on, there are always lots of emotions. One mother was in tears and told us that no one had helped her before like this and that she was full of joy for her family. We always find that it’s the same no matter where we are in the world. Parents want what is best for their children.