By Tim Schilds, member of the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise, Canada
Of all the adventures my wife Sally and I have been lucky enough to experience in our 31-year Rotary career, I think our time in Sri Lanka building homes with local families and a team from Canada has to rank as the most humbling and satisfying. We were invited to join the team by our friend, fellow Rotarian and team leader Darryll White from the Rotary Club of Edmonton West. The team was part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Baticcaloa, Sri Lanka. Sally and I are not very handy when it comes to construction; in fact I would not recommend either of us for your next home renovation project! We do, however, come with a great deal of enthusiasm and a strong desire to serve others. Darryll assured us that our limited skills would be welcome and would not be a hindrance to getting the job done. As it turned out we were in charge of mixing and hauling cement for floors which, although hard work in a hot and humid climate, fell within our skill set.
Meeting and working with the homeowners was quite simply beyond words. Every one of them was hardworking and in a situation that made it difficult for them to provide adequate housing for their family. Without exception, every family was appreciative of our help and did their best to show that appreciation. It was very humbling to have them serve mid-morning tea in their best cups or bring us a bottle of pop, that we knew they could not afford, as a show of appreciation. It was very gratifying to know we were helping these families move towards a better future. The homes we worked on were very small by North American standards (about 600 square feet), but they were much larger than the one room shack most families were living in and would provide a healthier and comfortable home life.
On our first day we were welcomed by the elders of the village at an opening ceremony and blessed with flowers. Throughout our time, we always had a group of children following us and wanting to play and dance with us. The villagers were very eager to share their culture. We were invited into homes to learn how meals were prepared and when one homeowner found out a member of our team had never tasted fresh coconut, he jumped on his bike and came back with five fresh coconuts off the tree and chopped them open with a machete for us to taste.
Meeting, working with and getting to know a team of fellow Canadians was a great part of our experience. There is a lot of bonding that takes place as you sweat throughout the day! Our team was from all across Canada and had quite different backgrounds and life experiences. An important part of the build was getting to know and adjust to how everyone worked. I believe we have made some long term friends and many of them we will continue to keep in contact with.
An important part of every adventure is to travel around the host country a bit and get to know the people and the culture. It is also a great way to help support the local economy. We did this as part of the trip and then added some locations of our own. The people in Sri Lanka are friendly and eager to make sure you enjoy their country and the food is simply to die for!
Want to get involved? Contact your local Habitat for Humanity branch and learn more about their Global Village program. In Canada, there are many teams each year that you can join. We will definitely be taking another trip soon!