Habitat for Humanity
of Evansville

My trip to Malawi

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It’s been a week since I returned home from Malawi and I’m ready to put my thoughts and reflections in writing. I still haven’t figured out how to describe this trip accurately in a couple lines, as most people expect when they ask how your trip was. So hopefully this will provide a better understanding and summary.

 I am so fortunate to work for Habitat for Humanity of Evansville for a little over a year now, a position that kind of fell in my lap, similar to this trip. I had no idea Habitat was global – 90% of its work is outside of the US, building in 70 countries.  Habitat International has a department called Global Village, which is a way for people to essentially take a mission trip anywhere Habitat is building and volunteer there. I received an email offer from Katie, a staff member at Habitat International organizing a Global Village trip to Malawi with Habitat staff members from all over the United States. I immediately wanted to go. The opportunity was right there, all I had to do was say yes. So after some talking with my Executive Director, I did!

 In the weeks leading up to the highly anticipated trip, the realness of going to Africa hit me – and it was daunting. At night my anxiety never failed to creep in, filling me with fear. I was nervous about everything from my plane going missing and having to live on a desert island, to getting kidnapped when I landed. It was mostly travel fears. And when I was stressed during the day I just thought to myself…why am I doing this? When I got my four vaccines in my small shoulders...same thought – why am I doing this, again?

 The night before I left, my mom was my God sighting. Early on she never seemed too enthused that I was going to Africa. We didn’t really talk about it until the week before when we had to plan things. But the night before in the hotel in Indianapolis, she gave me the best pep talk ever. I had broken down to tears admitting – I don’t know why I’m doing this. She then exposed her proudness of me, reminding me that I was living, and that I was called by God to this and I was about to go see God’s people helping other people, and explore more of His creation. It was all I needed to get on the plane.

 The first night I arrived my question of why was answered again, during our first devotion time led by Habitat all-star, Kevin Campbell, CEO of Wake County Habitat in North Carolina. He reminded us all that we would not be able to change the ways of the country, we were not there to solve the housing crisis, we would not fix the poverty there. We were there to fix ourselves. We would be changing the ways of our hearts.

 During our five jam-packed days, we saw, did, and learned a lot of things. Because we were all Habitat staffers, our trip was different in that we didn’t build the whole time. In fact, we only spent two days building two brick houses. The other days were learning about Habitat in Malawi, poverty and culture in the country and Habitat’s Africa, Middle East and Europe Area office.

We visited other projects by Habitat in the country like latrines and water kiosks. It was wonderful to learn that Habitat isn’t just about decent housing – it’s about meeting basic human needs in countries where the need is greatest. And the composting latrines were incredible! My immaturity leaked when I chuckled at learning that for every time you “went,” you threw in one scoop of ash and two scoops of dirt that were in buckets inside, let it sit for nine months and voila! You have great, fertile soil. You would use the second hole in the latrine while you were waiting for the other to reach full term.

 Building in the village was the most impacting. It was hard work! Laying bricks and mud mortar left my body sore but in the most rewarding way. The family we were building for had, like most families, a house made out of mud bricks, a dirt floor, and a thatch roof that was being eaten by termites. You could hear them munching like a crackling fire when you walked in. During the rainy season the roof leaked, and I would imagine poured in water seeing the visible holes in it, causing the floor to turn into mud and puddles. Our family lived in dust in the dry season and slept standing up in the rainy season, neither season having much ventilation due to the lack of windows. The mother mentioned that her husband built the house six years ago, and when he passed away shortly after, she lost hope. They were long overdue for a stable home, so then she could concentrate on working and providing food for her two children.

 Just seeing the daily life in the village was also impacting. The people were doing the best they could and remained a happy sentiment. Women and children were pumping water from the well nearby all day long. Children were playing together just as they would at a daycare center in the US, but instead with only the supervision of whoever was nearby. They didn’t have a lot – but they also have a lot we don’t have. Like a much stronger sense of community, a resiliency to so much, and a spirit of generosity, considering how little they appeared to have to give. I enjoyed high-fiving the children and trying to communicate with them. I loved watching them dance and sing as they welcomed us into their home. They knew to find joy in the most inspiring way. But in the moment that a child would simply cough, reality would come crashing down in a harsh way. I would remember the horrible respiratory problems they had to live with because of their lack of decent housing. Those days in the village gave me a sense of how devastating the reality of poverty could be.

 So was I inspired? As people often ask. Was it awesome? Did you have a great time? Yes! But it was a lot of things. I am incredibly fortunate to take part in the efforts of Habitat, and I’m extremely proud to work for an organization that is tackling this epic problem. The need is great in Malawi, and I was moved doing my small part in helping when I was there. I would go back in a heartbeat! It was fun, it was beautiful, it was eye-opening and heart-changing.

 My answer to why I went is a still being added to. I’ll find out more how this changed my life in later days. For now I am an advocate for service, and a voice for real issues like poverty housing. My takeaway would be to encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone in some way and help others. Of much is given, much is expected. And as Mother Theresa has once said, you can change the world in small ways. Use your time, talents and treasures that God gave you to utilize.

 I found this on the blog of Rachel Childress, CEO of Lexington Habitat in Kentucky, and who I had the joy of getting to know on the trip.

 “Indeed, Habitat for Humanity builds houses. But . . . there is a lot more to what happens than house building. It’s making a house a home, a neighborhood a safe and beautiful community, building ‘bridges’ between people of other cultures and classes; it’s learning new skills, finding new ways to serve, acquiring new friends, and much, much more. It is dreams coming true for all involved – dreams that translate in making a stronger society, a better world.” – Millard and Linda Fuller, co-founders of Habitat for Humanity

-Lee Jerstad, former communications manager for Habitat for Humanity of Evansville

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