Writing about India brings back so many memories. Last week I was writing about the first time that I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, India. Fitting, since my daughter was in Ecuador last week, volunteering with Me to We, a Canadian charitable organization.
For me, building houses with Habitat was one of the highlights of my time in India. I remember being so naive, thinking that we were actually going to build a house – all in one day. It was a real eye opener to learn that Habitat was helping not just one family, but an entire village, and that it would take weeks or months to build a home, depending on the availability of volunteers and funds.
The house that I worked on was just in the beginning stages and we spent the day digging and carrying away dirt. We worked alongside the husband and his brother. Sweat equity they called it.
What I liked about Habitat for Humanity was that they gave a “hand up” not a “hand out.” Families paid back a no-profit loan and they helped build the house with their own hands.
I remember how hot it was that day and how hard-packed the red soil was, with big stones embedded in it. All we had were these rudimentary tools – picks for digging, and shallow round bowls for carrying the dirt away. Every once in a while, one of us westerners would wish out loud for a proper shovel, a wheel barrel or some sort of machinery to hasten the pace. It was painful, knowing how fast the work would have been done back home, with first world machinery.
“You could easily have paid a local person two hundred rupees ($5) to do the work that you are doing today,” the Senior Manager for Habitat India told us. “But your time here is valuable to this community. It shows them that you value them and care enough to come and help. Not only that, but each of you will share your experience with others and create awareness.”
When I finished volunteering that first day, it was hard to leave, to wave goodbye to the children who had gathered to watch us work. To say goodbye to the husband and the brother who worked with us all day, and the grandparents who watched from the shade of a papaya tree. I put my hands together and bowed my head in respect, to thank them for letting me come and help out. “Namaste,” I said. When I looked up, I saw such gratitude in their eyes, and all I could think was no, it’s me who is the lucky one.
My daughter just returned from her trip to Ecuador, where Me to We strives to “empower a generation to shift the world from ‘me’ to ‘we’—through how we act, how we give, the choices we make on what to buy and what to wear, the media we consume and the experiences with which we choose to engage.”
She was telling me all about her trip to the Amazon: the people that she met; running out of shower water; the work that she did on a school – mixing cement, painting, sawing and carrying wood. She told me how they calculated that a family of three would have just 43 cents to buy food for a meal. That would buy a bit of rice, a potato, an onion and a tomato. “That was a real eye opener,” she told me.
What I noticed more than anything was the joy in her voice and the smile on her face. She genuinely said, “I’m really grateful for what I have.”