Last week, Juli Genovesi and myself, both Hands on Leadership graduates had the pleasure of leading a group of 6 volunteers on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village build in Trinidad.
The idea for this trip started last December as the capstone for Juli’s HOL class and I got looped in soon thereafter. While we initially looked at builds within the US we eventually got more ambitious and landed on Trinidad because of it’s interesting culture and acute need for housing help. The following eight months were a whirlwind as we took trainings from Habitat, sorted out tons of logistics, recruited volunteers, and threw a few large scale fund raising events including a benefit concert at the Triple Door (thanks to Juli’s amazing musical connections).
With everything in place, our team of 8, finally headed off for Trinidad on the 3rd of September. We arrived on the island on Saturday, and got to spend our first night at a small hotel on the outskirts of the capital, Port of Spain. The next morning we woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and set off for our build site in the southern town of Point Fortin, known to the locals as just “Point”.
In Point we had a small guest house to ourselves including three rooms and a common area. The local habitat office rep, Sharlin, was with us the whole time there and went out of her way to make our experience amazing.
Our first day involved seeing the build site and meeting the future homeowners we’d be helping: Melissa Brown and her husband. We then got to enjoy a little fun on the beach to relax and get ready for our hard work ahead.
Each weekday, we’d get up at 7AM, eat breakfast which was provided by the Habitat affiliate, then head out to the site. By 8:30 we would meet our foreman, Marcus Lucas, a habitat contractor, and start on the tasks for the day. While the logistics and planning were not as rigorous as one may expect in the US, the whole team adapted well and went with flow. Our goal was to get as far as we could on the foundation and included straightening up a trench, building re-bar for the hole by bending steel using our hands, then filling the entire ditch with hand mixed and bucket carried concrete. In 95 degree heat with high humidity it was very taxing work for us Seattlites who’re not used to seeing the sun at all. Any cloud cover we got was a welcome break and passing showers provided us with a bit of relief as well. The best part of the experience was being able to work alongside the family members whom we were building for as it made our impact more appreciable. We really gelled as a team and by the end of the week exceed expectations by finishing the entire foundation.
After each workday, we had time to wonder around town and get a sense of the local scene. We went to grocery stores, hung out in coffee shops, and even became addicted to the local street food called “doubles” which were served out of the back of a station wagon in the center of town. One night we went us out as a team and got to experience a student steel drum group perform local music.
On Friday night, we went back to Port of Spain and took a one day excursion on Saturday to Tobago, a more touristy island. While there we lounged on the beach and got to go snorkeling near a reef. It was a welcome respite after a tough week of manual labor. We returned to Trinidad that same evening, had a farewell ceremony hosted by the country’s Habitat affiliate, then woke up early the next morning to fly back to Seattle.
All in all, our Habitat for Humanity GV trip to Trinidad was an amazing experience. It was a perfect mix of volunteering, immersion in the local culture, and a bit of vacationing. While it was definitely challenging at times, with the skills we acquired in Hands on Leadership, Juli and I were set up well to plan and execute on this broad project.
And what do you know, we’ve got another service trip option coming up in November in Nicaragua if this sounds like something you’d want to do!