|Habitat for Humanity
(submitted by Kat Whatley to meet the requirement of Global Perspectives)
On March 20th, I embarked on a trip to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand to build a house for a family in need. The plan was to build a three room cinder block house for a single mother and her teenage daughter. I also wanted to learn more about Thai society and interact with locals in a way that is not possible with regular tourism. What I realised during the project was that a house is not only a house but also a future.
The build took place from March 22nd to March 26th, 2010. I stayed in a hotel 30 minutes away from the site with about ten Nishimachi International School students and their parents. Everyday we were driven to the site, where we worked from nine am to about four pm, with an hour lunch break. Before we came the foundation and roof of the house had already been built, as that required skilled labour. Our team was in charge of much of the unskilled labour. We levelled the floor, made the concrete for the floor and laid cinder-blocks for the walls.
This was like nothing I had ever done before. I was forced into a new environment, and had to do a kind of manual labour I had not experienced before. It was challenging because we were expected to create a safe, high quality house, even though we had not done any of the tasks given to us before. It was also physically straining as I was working lifting buckets, making concrete, or laying bricks up to six hours a day. I now have a new respect for builders and workmen, as I have seen that even building the most simple of houses takes great skill. Every night I went to the hotel and made sure I had a long shower and a good night’s sleep. The only way to get through the muscle ache and strains was to rest, stay hydrated and remember that what the aches were for.
I also had to work with my classmates in a context I was not used to. Offering advice on the best way to get cement of a trowel, or making sure my friends stayed hydrated and in the shade was something I was not used to. As we were all working together towards a common goal, I could sense that we all contributed and tried harder than we might have in a different place. I felt great responsibility creating a house for someone. I was willing to do any job, if it helped this family in any way. If that including standing in the sun making cement with a student I wasn’t friends with, I was happy to do it.
This project made me realise how lucky I really was. Here I was making a simple, un-airconditioned cinder-block house when I had everything I could ever really need sitting in my room in Tokyo. When I talked to the young girl who was going to move into the completed house, I really understood what it meant to have hope in the face of adversity. Here was a girl who didn’t even have a permanent home, and yet she was studying and planning to try to go to university and achieve something for herself. The build brought to light how many people around the world have no homes, no food and no future. It made me understand the importance of a steady, reliable place to live. Without it, how can children be expected to succeed in the future?
The project helped me develop new skills, both physically and mentally. I learned how to do things like make a cinder-block wall, and make cement. More importantly, I learned how to get through physical pain and tiredness. The timetable meant that I had to keep working even when I wanted to stop. It made me have more stamina and endurance, both physically and mentally. After I came home, I realised that I could continue studying and focusing much longer than I could before. I believe that is a direct result of the project.
Though I have not had the opportunity to do a Habitat for Humanity project again, I hope I will in the future. I want to be able to do the project again and make sure I connect more with the people around me. I wish I had spent more time talking to the other Thai workers or the girl whom we were building the house for. This project also made me think more about the inequality of our world. I started to think about why my life was so different to the girl’s. One way I followed up on the project was by joining Amnesty International at YIS.
Last february, my classmates and I made the trip to discover first-hand, the hardships of the lifestyle left behind by the genocidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Before the trip, we were made to raise 75000yen each, in order to pay for building materials and school supplies that we would be donating to the children at a school where we would be helping in the construction of a building. I helped some of my friends paint T-shirts that promoted Hope International and the Cambodia project. I helped some other friends cook for their bake sales. I contributed quite a bit to the sales revenue as well. Out of pocket, you know. I also spent a lot of time promoting the project at my father’s workplace, raising a considerable amount of money there, as well. The fund raising process was not as difficult as it was rewarding, considering the tremendous trip we were about to experience.
When we landed in Phnom Penh and drove through the city to our hotel, the first thing I noticed was the quick gradation from very poor neighborhoods to bustling city. Poverty was everywhere; even strolling through the city I lost count of the number of double amputees scooting themselves around begging for spare change.
We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21), a former high school turned prison and torture facility that was in use during the Khmer Rouge. I walked through the rows upon rows of tiny prison cells that still had chains bolted to the walls, and old torture instruments and ammunition boxes lying around. The most difficult things I had to see were the glass cabinets stuffed with human skulls, some with multiple bullet holes, some with chunks missing from having been bludgeoned and bashed in. It struck me how these events only took place around 30 years ago, and many of the locals that we would see in the city were survivors of the genocide.
After some tourism, it came time for us to get down and dirty and see how the impoverished Cambodians live their lives. We took a five hour drive to Pursat, the poorest of all of the provinces in Cambodia. We met with a representative of Hope, a charity organization that deals with building wells for needy families in Pursat. We visited a few families that were living on farms off of the beaten track. The first family we visited was one of many millions who do not have direct access to a well or clean water. The mother told us how she had to take daily two-hour trips just to get two buckets of clean water. She told us about how her husband was making very little money at his factory job because of the corrupt system, where each worker is only paid for four of every six weeks that he works, and how their lack of money led to the death of one of her five children. When we bade her family goodbye, we met with a family who did have a well. The mother told us how all of her children are being married off, they all have decent jobs, they are healthy. She told us how her success was due to the well that Hope had built for her. She thanked us many times as we left
The next morning we left the hotel early to go to an elementary school; the site of the new schoolhouse that we were set to build. As soon as we hopped off of our buses, a wave of at least a hundred kids ran to meet us with hugs as we handed out soccer balls and baseballs that we’d brought from home. After about an hour of messing around with the kids, we got to work. Local workers had already begun with the foundations and laying bricks. Our first job was to bucket-brigade a ton of sand to fill in the foundations. We finished that after a day, with the help of some enthusiastic seven year old cambodian kids. The next day we came back to haul boulders in for the floors, after which we beat them into the ground with water and tree trunks. We spent three days working in Pursat, but because we only spent a few hours out of each day actually working, we had an interesting debate about ethics come up:
Our debate was about whether or not we were having any positive effect on the people we met, by intruding on their time and space, or assisting in the building of the school despite numerous breaks and disruption of regular classes. We were just tourists, and paying locals to do the job that we decided to do would have yielded much better efficiency in terms of allocation of funds towards immediate charity work. However, decided that the largest affect that we would have is the long term one, where we internalize the message of the lack of clean water, the poverty, the lack of education, and we come back to do more things in the future. We found that the effect that we would have as a whole would be limited in the immediate sense, but what we can do through awareness raising and a long term commitment to the issues at stake, is much more important, and I believe that this was the goal of the trip.
We touched on many issues of global importance while on this trip. Obviously there is that of the cruelty of dictatorial regimes that we experienced at the museum, but there was also the issue of the severe poverty that affects many regions of Cambodia today as a result.
The experience of visiting and seeing first hand the poverty of the country, and the hardships that so many people in the world have to face everyday, was eye-opening and life-changing for me, and I will definitely be engaging in charity work for the rest of my life.
Cambodia Trip 2013
Every year, Yokohama International School organizes a group of 11th graders to travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the purpose of building schools by working with HOPE International Development Agency. This year (2012-2013 school year), I had the opportunity to be one of these lucky students. The members of the group were responsible for coming up with a fund to purchase building materials and traveling to help the process of building.
During our trip at Cambodia, the majority of the 10-day trip took place at Pursat, a village in Phnom penh. The first day was spent meeting the past and future recipients of wells from HOPE international. This was when I realized the importance of water and how much it could contribute in changing one’s life. Family who received a well five years ago was now well off; kids attended schools, parents were able to open a small local grocery market, they were able to afford a motor-cycle to move around the city and most importantly everyone looked healthy and well nourished. On the other hand, the future recipient of the well had a completely different life. The family lost one of their daughters because of dengue fever. They did not have enough money to take her to the hospital and get the medication she needed. Kids did not go to school and the father had to work for a medical company earning $3 a day in poor working conditions.
Following is a slideshow with a collection of photos taken during the trip:
Arts for Life
Fit for Life