Since becoming involved with the PEI affiliate of Habitat for Humanity in 1997, I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled globally to places like New Zealand, Uganda, Guatemala, Paraguay, Mozambique, Thailand, Kenya, Portugal, and Malaysia, while giving a hand up to deserving families along the way. This trip to the Yukon was the first time that I’ve taken part in a build for neighbors in another part of Canada. It’s easy to forget that ‘our own’ are in need of affordable safe housing too. My build experience in Whitehorse is one I will never forget. The warm, friendly and welcoming nature of people made this trip an extraordinary build "at home”.
This was my first travel experience "North of 60” and the Yukon did not disappoint! Its rugged, wild, exotic, and pristine landscape is like no other in my travel experience. Whitehorse is called the "Wilderness City” because the wilderness is literally on your doorstep even within its city limits. The wild and treacherous Yukon River flows through the heart of Whitehorse which is named after the historic rapids of Miles Canyon that resembled the flowing manes of charging white horses.
Above the treeline
Probably one of the most memorable parts of our visit to Whitehorse with Habitat for Humanity was meeting with members of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations communities who shared their culture and ancestry in Canada with us. The First Nations communities are vibrant active contributors to the area and I found their stories of survival relating to climate, residential schools, and the "60’s Scoop” to be an eye-opening and moving part of my experience in the Whitehorse area.
I was extremely impressed by the organization and innovative building techniques of the Whitehorse Habitat affiliate. Like here on PEI, cold winters can stretch the utility budgets of families beyond their limits making home ownership only a dream. Because temperatures can reach as low as -60 degrees during the long dark winters, families can find themselves with heating bills approaching $2000.00 per month. The goal of Habitat Whitehorse is to build homes that cost no more than $200.00 per month to maintain and they seem to have succeeded. We were introduced to one homeowner who received the center home of a triplex from Habitat, and admitted that she did not have to turn on her heat all winter due to the warmth coming from the houses on either side of her.
Our work-site consisted of a duplex foundation; we were building housing for two families, one with four children and the other with two. The families were often present on site and working side by side with us on their new homes. It was our goal during our brief stay in Whitehouse to construct and raise the outer walls and separation firewall in preparation for the roofing. The team worked well together and we ended up being ahead of schedule in our final building days.
First day at build site
Raising our first wall
and his son Jérôme
Probably the most rewarding part of travelling while ‘giving back’ is having the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and everyday routines of the global communities in which I volunteer. It offers a perspective into the similarities of peoples everywhere that cannot be fully understood when travelling just as a tourist. Even though this was a Canadian build, it demonstrated that no matter where I go on these build experiences, the needs and aspirations of people are all the same. The dreams of fathers, single mothers, grandparents, and sometimes older siblings to provide a safe, affordable home for their families and to safely raise-up their children to believe that they deserve the same for their families in the future.
The thankfulness and gratitude of homeowners is everywhere demonstrated during my build experiences and seeing their hope for a new future, made possible (in small part) by my personal efforts and those of my like-minded team members, makes it all worthwhile. The intrinsic rewards are without description. At times, I may even feel a bit selfish, as I know that according to Lynn Spredbury in "8 Reasons You Should Pay To Volunteer Abroad” on Matador Network,
"People who do it (pay to volunteer) have increased happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health and decreased depression. Oh yeah, and it’s addictive.”
Habitat for Humanity calls it "Habaddiction”, and I developed a bad case of it shortly after my first volunteer experience in 1997.
My next travel adventure with Habitat for Humanity will take me to Jordan in November. We will be either building or renovating a house for a family in the town of Umm Al Yanaba’a Ajloun, about two hours outside the capital of Amman. Because unemployment is high, many Jordanians live below the poverty line. Combined with poverty, a serious shortage of water for its population of about 8 million people, and an influx of refugees makes housing shortage critical.
Once again I expect to be blessed by another life-changing experience with Habitat for Humanity; lending a helping hand to a family to build a home, strengthen their community and enrich both their lives and my own.