What’s on your bucket list? An international Habitat for Humanity trip with my adult son was on mine. I am a recently retired professional accountant, and in December of 2019, my son and I went on our first Global Village build. The trip was something I wanted to do, and taking the opportunity to travel with my son made it even more awesome. After connecting with experienced Habitat volunteers in our hometown and hearing about their past trips, we chose to go to El Salvador as part of a Christmas “blitz build”. (A blitz build occurs when volunteer teams congregate at the same location to build multiple houses at the same time).
My son and I had never traveled to Central America, and so we were looking forward to both the build and the cultural experience. In preparation for our trip we had many of our questions answered by our team leader and by an information package that Habitat provides to Global Village participants. Prior to the trip we ensured our vaccinations were up-to-date, learned a bit of Spanish, and broke a sweat at the gym to prepare for the full work days to come at the build site. We also bought work clothes and gifts to donate to the families in El Salvador.
Upon arrival, we were met by local Habitat staff and then bused to our accommodations near the build site at a friendly, locally-owned hotel. The room was basic, but clean and comfortable. The hotel offered well prepared local cuisine for breakfast and supper each day. A big highlight of the trip was meeting the deserving families who would receive the homes. Habitat staff hosted ceremonies both at the start and end of the week with the families in attendance.
When we arrived at the build site there were volunteer teams already working on several new houses in the same neighborhood. Our team of 10 included members from all across Canada, and there was a team with members just from our hometown area, and a team with volunteers from across the United States. There were also Salvadoran volunteers from local high schools, the university, and businesses that joined us on site for a day. This international volunteer group created a diverse and inclusive atmosphere that made for engaging conversations. These discussions often occurred during work breaks and lunches. The meals were catered by local residents consisted of authentic Salvadoran food, including: empanadas, chicken, fish, rice, beans, plantains, and bottled soda.
Our build site was located outside a rural town, near Santa Anna, where six 400 square foot concrete block homes were being built for local families. Our team worked primarily on one home under the direction of the local mason and his two assistants. Habitat staff were always on site to help translate his instructions. The construction was steady from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm and included digging dirt, sifting sand, mixing concrete, tying rebar, and moving a LOT of concrete blocks in a human chain. All the work was done with hand tools only. We definitely needed frequent shade and hydration breaks due to the bright sun and 35°C temperature. Although the homes were not completed by the time we had to leave, over the week we did watch the walls of the house rise from a dirt site to a completed foundation.
In addition to the build site experience, we were able to take in the local culture as tourists. Before the build, Habitat staff gave us a guided tour from the capital city of San Salvador to the Cathedral where Saint Oscar Romero is buried. After the build, our team spent a couple days at a seaside resort near the airport. The socially-responsible hotel hired nearby locals only, and trained them in tourism and hospitality services. The resort supported a sea turtle sanctuary and a 10-acre adjacent forest reserve. My son and I stayed a few extra days, and so we hired a local guide to give us a personal tour through the countryside. We even climbed for two hours to the top of an active volcano!
This Global Village experience gave us a greater appreciation of the good work that Habitat does in El Salvador to provide safe and affordable homes for qualified families. Every day we felt energized by the positivity of the committed volunteers on the build site, and we learned so much from our interactions with the local Salvadorans whom we met. We learned that although El Salvador is a developing country, it is also a safe place where people are joyful, gracious, and appreciative. We look forward to joining another Global Village build in the future.
~ Greg Bounds