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In 2017, Aislinn & Rachel, technology consultants, spent three weeks in the Philippines volunteering on Habitat for Humanity’s disaster response programme. They worked alongside families to rebuild their homes and communities after Typhoon Haiyan, which struck in 2013. Here Aislinn and Rachel share their story.

Together with teams from Japan and another Irish volunteer, we spent 3 weeks working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes on the small island of Bantayan, Cebu. Habitat rally teams of volunteers across the globe to help in areas of need. Their self-help model provides families and communities with a ‘hand-up’ to pull themselves out of poverty. Families invest hundreds of hours of their own time, ‘sweat equity’, building their homes and their communities. The vision is much more than bricks and mortar. It is about empowerment, opportunity and change for the benefit of an entire community for generations.

Swapping our desks jobs for manual labour, we did different activities each day, including painting, mixing cement (by hand!), digging foundations, laying blocks, and helping wherever we could. The tools available were pretty basic, mostly just shovels and trowels, and it wasn’t long before blisters started appearing! However, the lack of tools was well and truly compensated for by an abundance of positive energy – everyone supported each other on site, and there was never a moment where we felt unwelcome. 

The term power in numbers was evident every day. With a large group of volunteers, families completing sweat equity, and local builders on hand all working together, jobs were completed quickly. The rate of progress was incredible, and there are 50 more homes due to be completed next month, ending the long wait for families living in temporary accommodation. When the site is fully completed it will be its own community with 300 homes, a religious centre, community gardens, and day-care and school facilities.

While the work was sometimes tough in the hot conditions, it was extremely rewarding. Aislinn had volunteered at the same site two years ago, and it was amazing to meet the families again that had already moved into the homes she had worked on previously. We got to hear their stories, what it was like in the aftermath of the typhoon, how they have tried to rebuild their lives, and their hopes for the future and the future of their children.

It was an amazing experience, and while the site in Bantayan is nearly finished, Habitat for Humanity has opportunities all around the world to volunteer. We highly recommend getting involved.

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