The Day I Told My Family I Would Build Homes Abroad

My decision to join a charity building project abroad

When I told my family and friends that I would be taking part in a house building trip abroad with work, I was met with praise, enthusiasm, but a fairly common statement, ‘you’re not very practical, how will you cope?’

“To be fair, I’m clumsy and I struggle to unlock doors at the best of times! Nevertheless, I was determined.”

In the summer of 2013, I applied and was accepted to be part of a Habitat for Humanity corporate house build. Not only was I worried about how I would contribute, I was the only person from my department who was selected and I didn’t know any of the others.

Luckily, Habitat for Humanity arranged regular meetings and group calls prior to the trip and this gave me the chance to meet my teammates and to pick up and share fundraising ideas. This time also gave us opportunities to ask any questions, helped to alleviate any fears and prepared us for what to expect.

Raising the funds was challenging but having people in the company to contact for support made it feel like I wasn’t on my own. With everyone working in varied roles, it resulted in different approaches and gave a large pool of connections. Having articles and links shared on the intranet also helped to gain the whole support of the company and this was invaluable.


Hands-on support

Just before the trip, we had a change of location due to civil unrest. Whilst this could have been stressful, a meeting was quickly arranged, we were provided with a different option and gave any additional information that Habitat for Humanity needed. We were assisted with our Visa’s and we booked our injections, calling on Habitat for any extra support.

“Flexibility is key when taking part in a house build.”

On arriving in the country, I thought back to what my family and friends had said about my skills, but then our team leader said, ‘if you can make sure that everyone is drinking water and taking breaks, then you can contribute to the team’. This has stuck with me since.

During the build, I realised that by having people from varied backgrounds and roles, between us we could all contribute and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t do the heavy-duty stuff.

“Following another trip, I went on to learn that I can’t hammer nails but I can shovel like no other!”


Volunteer construction: building abroad for the most vulnerable

During our time in Zambia, all role barriers were broken. There was no managerial hierarchy with the juniors doing the less appealing jobs. Everyone contributed in the way that they could and no-one was berated but encouraged and supported.

It’s amazing how after a few meetings prior to the trip you can become so close to your team mates. By working together in challenging and emotive circumstances it gives you a greater understanding of each other and the challenges that they have day to day.

“Working side by side in the heat to provide a home for a family creates mutual respect.”

In our final few days I don’t think there was anyone that didn’t share a tear. From handing over the home to the family, the happiness at being able to work on three homes and having to leave. It was an intense experience for all.

The opportunity to sit and talk in the evening was a great way to discuss the different feelings. We could also discuss what made us proud. For some it was overcoming a challenge. For some it was seeing the joy of the local children, and for others it was seeing the home progress over the week.


After You Return

Following the trip, friendships were made and the team met up from time to time to reminisce. Having people to share your feelings with when you return helps to process the experience. Trips are filled with happiness and a sense of achievement. They may make you re-evaluate your position in life and these feelings can feel strange.  Having colleagues you can talk to helps you to adjust back to day to day life without losing enthusiasm you felt.

Being part of a corporate house build gave me the chance to help build homes for those in need. Also the chance to meet colleagues that I would have never engaged with otherwise.  I forged long-standing friendships, and it made me incredibly proud to work for my employers.

Watch Aon’s video about their trip to Zambia to see what a corporate build really looks like…

This post was written by Katie, our Senior New Business Officer and frequent trip team leader. 

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