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Published: February 25th 2010
On February 8th David and I, and 13 other members of the Global Vilage Habitat for Humanity team, were welcomed by the family whose house we were going to build. We were in Gisborne, New Zealand, the most easterly town in NZ (the first to experience the sunrise as the sun crosses the International Date Line).
The family (Makere, her husband Tukake and their many children, grandchildren and relatives) greeted us with traditional Maori song and dance, including a war dance by their son which looked ferocious but was more startling than frightening (see the fellow with the spear). We were thrilled by the performance then somewhat surprised when we were asked to sing a song in return. Here we were, a newly formed group of 4 older couples (yes, David and I are in that group) each couple married for more than 40 years, and a group of 7 single folk ranging in age from 24 to about 60, who had met only the night before. We quickly sorted through several song possibilities and settled upon a short version of “You are my sunshine.” Whew, we almost had made a cultural faux pas before we got started but we
all, interestingly, knew the words to this song!
The picture of the team was taken on Day #1 as we sat on the building materials and the wooden platform over the foundation that would be the base of the house that would be completed in just 8 days.
Responsibility for the success of the build really lies with the four members of the Hamilton, NZ H for H group. Wayne, the consulting contractor and his wife Carma functioned as the build supervisors, 18 year old Reagen was Wayne’s competent lieutenant, and Shirley made sure we were well fed (at lunch and for each "Smoke-O" --- our morning and afternoon breaks)and organized for the time we were on the building site.
Wayne turned out to be a very experienced contractor (he runs his own business and has built for HFH over 20 of the kind of houses we put up with him, as well as many others) and was a wonderful organizer of the mostly unskilled labor that we represented. Wayne directed part of the HFH team (some of whom had been on other HFH builds) and the many friends and family of Makere and Tukake to do
the actual construction of the house, efficiently keeping everyone busy with tasks suited to their ability. Carma supervised the rest of the HFH group doing the painting and painting preparartion (sanding, dusting, etc.), inside and outside the house. D and I have spent lots of time painting in our lives so we figured that we could make the greatest contribution on that team.
It’s incredible that by the end of Day#1, all of the exterior walls of the house were up, including the interior frames for the rooms. By the end of Day#2 the roof trusses were on, the ceilings laid, and the roof insulated (working around the two subcontractors putting in the basic electrical and plumbing lines). Day#3 the roof was up and the siding begun, followed the next days by the installation of the windows and interior doors, shower and tub, construction of decks and even a great deal of outside fencing evidently required by code to constrain small children and dogs. Those of us doing the painting primed, and did the first coat on the siding and eves boards on the first day and some of the second day, and then we were inside painting all
Carma supervising Jan, Christina and Marychris (Tutkake
Carma, our tough standards supervisor, is in the black tee shirt,
of the rooms with two more coats of paint after the priming.
It was an amazing experience in many ways --- the satisfaction of making a contribution to these wonderful families, the joy of becoming friends with both this family and their next door neighbor, Michelle, whose HFH house had been completed in December, and the fun of meeting other like-minded volunteers who came a long way (mostly from the US but also from places like Toronto, Bermuda, and Mexico) to do good work and to experience a country so far from home.
I had been hoping that I might be able to provide some gardening help to the families, but realized early on in the build that we would be pretty busy just getting the house completed in the compressed schedule we had (eight days to meet the scheduled dedication with some of the NZ HFH execs on the second Wednesday afternoon). But when I suggested to Shirley that I might be able to do a landscape design for each family and perhaps help them begin to select plants for their properties, she encouraged me to do it. The families were thrilled and the other volunteers were
very supportive. In fact, I was able to collect $800 from the volunteers to be shared by each family to get their gardens going. I did most of the work on the designs between 4:30 am and 6:30 am each day since I was still jet lagged. That worked out well except that my energy began to flag each afternoon at about 4.
David and I helped Makere (Tukake wasn’t able to get involved with this part of the project) and Michelle create a flowerbed and we helped them shop for plants. They knew nothing about gardening before we started but I was able to spend enough time with them at the garden centers to help them understand some of the basics (and to find good resources at each garden center to help them in the future). They did most of the planting so that we felt confident that they would be able to continue with the project (and not kill off the plants we put in). Michelle and Makere were so happy with the results that it really made me glad that I had put in the time and energy (and the worry that I might not get
everything done that needed doing). And now there are two more passionate gardeners in the world.
Regarding, Habitat for Humanity: we were really impressed with the number of homes they are able to build for the people of New Zealand and how hard they work to bring such high quality homes to deserving families.
Our fellow volunteers were a mix of high energy types, and people who, like D and me, feel so blessed by our lives that we want to give back to others who are not so fortunate, along with people who are looking for some adventure and want to experience the world in new ways. It was fun meeting them. However, at times it felt a bit more intense, people-wise, than our previous southeast Asia volunteer work. I’m not sure about whether I’d want to do another but I’m very glad I participated in this one.
We plan to stay in touch with Makere and Michelle and they’ve promised to send pictures of their gardens as the plants grow and the garden develops. And we’re going to stay in touch with some of our new Global Volunteer friends who shared this amazing experience with
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