The award for possibly one of the most meaningful uses of annual leave amongst our team this year has to go to Tim Nurcombe, who has recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia.
Tim had been part of a team of ten volunteers recruited by global housing charity Habitat for Humanity, which campaigns for safe and decent housing through the elimination of poverty and homelessness.
Ethiopia is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. At least eight out of ten people live in inadequate housing and only one in ten people have access to decent sanitation.
Taking Practical Action
Habitat for Humanity does more than campaign for the human right to a safe and decent place to live: they take practical action and, since they were founded in 1976, they have helped over 3 million people in 70 countries repair, renovate or build more than 600,000 homes.
Tim first learnt of the charity through his church, St Erkenwald’s in Barking. Along with a group of fellow parishioners and further volunteers from outside the church, a team was formed that would travel to Ethiopia to help build a house for a local family who had been living in dire conditions. But it would not be until their arrival in the village that the team would realise just how desperate these conditions were.
Funding the Trip
Rewinding a little, before the trip could go ahead some serious fundraising had to take place. The team received great support through boot sale proceeds, school non-uniform days, a ladies’ fashion night and numerous donations, and a good friend of Robert Gerrard did her bit by making some of her delicious marmalade to sell.
So with enough raised to fund the trip, the team was able to set off on its two week mission to make a difference to a family in need. But nothing had prepared any of them for what they would experience on arrival in the village.
Shocking Living Conditions
“It really was dreadful the way people were living,” said Tim. “Tiny little hovels with nothing but bin liners for roofs. You could just about stretch out your arms, yet there could be five adults living in there. And then there were the people who had no shelter at all, apart from the rock they slept beside. It was shocking and very, very humbling.”
The family the team were constructing the new home for had been living in such conditions; so to say Tim and his fellow builders were inspired to put everything they had into the task is an understatement.
With previous building experience totalling zero, Tim was certainly set to learn a whole host of new skills. Clad in hardhat and steel toe caps, he and the team set to work creating the main frame of the house from Eucalyptus branches and digging out the foundations.
Stones were used to reinforce the building and then the whole construction was covered in a plaster-like mixture called ‘chico’, a substance made from mud and straw, although up until recently the locals had Tim going that it also contained one other interesting ingredient: manure! “It was good stuff,” said Tim, “And all along I was praising this fantastic ‘secret’ ingredient. Just shows how a strong sense of humour was alive and well in the village!” The house was then painted and made ready for its new, eagerly awaiting occupants.
The team didn’t spend all its time building. They took the opportunity to immerse in village life and to get to know the local people, who respectfully performed a traditional dance for them. “We paid them back with a traditional dance of our own,” laughed Tim, “The Hokey Cokey!” Apparently it was enjoyed by all.
Tim admitted that the experience was tough both mentally and physically, and that it was difficult being so far away from his family, but he would not hesitate to do it again. That goes for the rest of the team too, who are all meeting up for a reunion and photo and memory sharing session in the near future.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity works to try to break the cycle of poverty, right across the world. You can find out more about their work on their website: http://www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/.