International service is one area of community engagement that raises mixed feelings for me and many others. I have plenty of relatives who like to remind me of the adage "charity begins at home," and I wonder whether the thousands of dollars spent to transport volunteers to another country might be put to better use funding work for locals. Aid programs in developing nations are ripe for exploitation, and participants risk becoming disaster tourists with make-work projects. Yet in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I found myself desperately wanting to do something more than making a donation. When I'm upset and frustrated, either with personal or global issues, my first instinct is to go to work and find something to do to make things better. I wanted to wait, however, until I could find a volunteer opportunity with an organization that I trusted, that could make the best use of my skills and money, and that had already established relationships with communities in Haiti before the earthquake. I believe I found that through Habitat for Humanity.
In my first term as a VISTA, I had formed a partnership with our local Habitat affiliate while looking for service opportunities for students, and I had been impressed with their work in Durham. Habitat works worldwide to address the issue of poverty housing. In the United States, Habitat helps low-income families build, purchase, and repair their own homes. Homeowners, who apply and are selected by an advisory board of community members, provide sweat equity hours, helping to build their own homes and others in the community, and pay zero-interest mortgages. Funds are used to build more Habitat homes. The organization also provides financial education to new homeowners. Internationally, Habitat builds homes as well as providing disaster response and management and community training in construction techniques and business development. Volunteers have the opportunity to serve abroad with Habitat through the Global Village program, participating on international builds for 1-3 weeks and learning how to become advocates for affordable housing. Each year, two of Habitat for Humanity's most prominent supporters, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, serve for a week to bring attention to this critical need. Our trip marked the 29th annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project and was the second year the project took place in Haiti.
|Teams from Houses 703-706, homeowners Hones Sainsulme and Katorsky Dupre, and President and Mrs. Carter.|
|Housing by the bay, between Port-au-Prince and Leogane|
|A United Nations canal project, Port-au-Prince|
|Volunteers arrive at the build site, Santo|