Here at Residential Properties we realize the importance of having a home as well as a supportive community. While Rhode Island is our home and holds the largest piece of our heart, at times we must turn our eyes outward to the world community.
Habitat for Humanity has the vision of giving everyone a decent place to live because, just like us, they know how important those four walls can be. Habitat for Humanity has been providing adequate homes to those in need since 1976. This nonprofit organization is present in all 50 states and in over 70 countries worldwide. Their international division is called Global Village which provides the opportunity to volunteer and build homes for those in need in over 30 nations. All of the hard work of this organization benefits the poor and disabled across the world. Mary Ann Lisi of RPL’s Narragansett office recently took advantage of this opportunity by volunteering her time in Malawi, Africa.
We caught up with Mary Ann to hear about her recent trip and the effect it had on her and the people she helped.
How were you introduced to Habitat for Humanity and what ultimately made you decide to take that extra step and become an active participant?
I have done work with Habitat for Humanity locally for years and think it is a fantastic organization, and a great fit for me as a Realtor. This trip combined my love of travel with helping others at the same time.
Were you able to choose where you volunteered and if so, why did you choose Africa?
Yes, you can request the country that you want to go to, however, the choice is ultimately up to the organization if you go or not. There is an interview process with the group leader to see if you would be a good fit for the group they are putting together. There were a total of 15 people from around the US on our mission and 90 had applied.
I chose Africa because I had always wanted to see the country and had heard that the African people were so amazing, warm and friendly… and it was true!
Can you tell us about the people there, both the locals and volunteers?
The people were amazing. Malawi is the poorest country in Africa. The families had no shoes for their children and their clothes were ripped and tattered. But, amazingly, they were all very happy people. They were so polite and gentle.
We had volunteers, employed by Habitat for Humanity, who worked with us every day patiently guiding us in how to build with bricks and mortar.
Our first day at the village, they were so excited to see us that a group of women and children followed our bus into the village singing and dancing the whole way. The children were so curious, they watched us build every day. We brought bubbles, glitter, pens and paper, as well as toys, and they could not wait to play with it all on our breaks. Everything was such a delight to them, and it was amazing seeing all the wide eyes and smiling faces.
Was any of the local culture shared with you?
The locals prepared a delicious meal for us one day, and we got to witness a passionate women’s circle dance.
The day we left the people at the hotel where we stayed sang us a goodbye song, and a local band played the night before.
As a real estate agent, you have a unique perspective on homes. Could you please describe the home you built and what kind of effect they can have on these families and people in general?
The home is the heart of the family.
This home is made of brick and mortar and had a few windows and a front door, and while most of the homes in the village had thatched roofs, this one would have a tin roof. The home is about 500 square feet with three rooms—a living room and two bedrooms. The mom for our house has severe epilepsy and the house will keep her and her two young children safe from the elements.
What kind of changes did you see over the course of your trip?
It was amazing how the children were almost afraid of us in the beginning and then almost clingy toward the end, they could not get enough of us. Even the adults were a bit skeptical at first and then after seeing us for a few days, seemed to be used to us and would smile and say hello in their native language.
The children especially loved our cellphone cameras. I do not think they had ever seen themselves before, so when we would take a picture and then show them, they would scream with excitement and laughter.
What was your most memorable moment throughout this entire experience?
On the final day we had a ceremony with the family that would live in the house that we built. They were so emotional and grateful.
Then as we boarded the bus for the last time to leave, the children were all gazing up at us with sad eyes, that was really hard. They will be in my heart forever though.
What would you say to someone considering volunteering in something like this? And what would you say to someone who isn’t?
Just do it! It is only two weeks of your life and the experience will be with you forever. It is physically challenging and emotional. You have to go with the flow eating strange food, having a stranger for a roommate for 2 weeks, travel issues and jet lag, but it’s all worth it.
I love what Dr. Wayne Dyer says, ”If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Things will never be the same for me after Africa.
I think I am a better person for having met the African people. I have always believed that happiness is an inside job and that we make our own happiness. The Malawi people proved that to be true.
If you wish to volunteer Habitat for Humanity visit their website www.Habitat.org and if you want to travel abroad like Mary Ann and affect the lives of people in other countries check out Global Village. In fact, Global Village is organizing another trip to Malawi at the end of the year.