Habitat for Humanity Homeowners & Volunteers Learn That It Takes a Village

Guest blog post contributed by: Shannon Pruitt of http://mynewfavoriteday.com

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~Anne Frank

 "It takes a Village".  Such a beautiful and simple concept, yet even as I type the words there is a current of power that comes through them into my heart.  From humble beginnings as an African proverb, it has now been further repopulated by notable community members and global leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Malaak Compton - Rock (yes, Chris Rock's wife but a massive force in the advocacy world with a bestselling book called, "If it Takes a Village, Build One", who takes the concept beyond that of raising a child, to raising our global community.  

On a local level, I was recently able to experience this theory in practice, as I had the honor of working on a build site for local  Habitat for Humanity of Greater L.A. families who are in the mid-stages of literally building a community housing development.  This was not my first Habitat for Humanity build, as my husband and I did a build in South Africa in 2007, which was a life-changing experience for me. 

In Habitat, there is a saying that "As the walls go up, walls come down" and this could not be more true. One of the fundamental principles of Habitat for Humanity is that the opportunity to receive a home is not a handout.  Homeowners must both put in 500 hours of "Sweat Equity," as well as repay a no-interest Home Loan.  To give you an idea of the magnitude of the number of  homes that are being built, "a home is finished EVERY 5 minutes" and Habitat has become the largest private home builder in the US.  That means that each of those families has put in 500 hours of labor to help finish their home and when you think of the socio-economic level of the folks receiving and therefore building - not working at their actual job is not an option.  So, clearly the experience of bringing the dream of homeownership to life is definitely a family affair and the message that this sends is universal, we all have to work together and helping your neighbor is an amazing start.

When my husband, KSP, and I went to Africa, we worked in shanty town just outside Capetown.  The roads were dirt and existing homes were made of tarps, wood scraps and corrugated aluminum for the roof.  To say the people were impoverished would not begin to communicate their circumstances.  Yet, as we worked along side our homeowner and his brothers so that he could build a house for his children to come visit, I learned an immense amount about humanity, compassion, fortitude, and love.  Over the course of 5 days, we mixed cement for mortar, made human brick chains to pass the cinderblocks that would be the walls, created window and door frames, scaled walls to attach the wood and tiled roof, and made a door through which this family could pass through everyday into their new home. Words could not properly communicate how much this experience was a gift for my soul and my walls must have come tumbling down because I spent the entire dedication ceremony to our homeowner in tears to which his response was to look me in the eyes, wipe my tears and say thank you.

Between now and then I have done a few more builds locally and Habitat for Humanity of Greater L.A.'s  Lowe's Power Women Power Tools build was special in that again the Homeowners were building with us. I watched in awe as I was on grouting duty with my new wonderful friends as we laid and secured a brick BBQ patio, and the 19 year old daughter of one of the homeowners came swooping into our wheel barrow of mortar and took a huge shovel full and walked it back to where she was working on the other part of the patio.  As I watched her I thought about just how proud her mother (who I later found out is a single mother of 2 girls) must be. Coincidentally, later that day during the lunch break, I ended up sitting with this particular homeowner. She told us about the various families that were out building today and how a few of them were single mothers. Since you have to be 16 to be on the build site, it's very challenging for the mothers with younger children. Especially because their children cannot be on the site and they must work during the week to put food on the table. My fellow volunteers and I asked her various questions and then she told us that because a few of the families had older children who were able to work on the weekdays to put labor hours toward the family's mandatory hours (like her own), when the weekend hours came and the mothers of these older children could work on the site, the children (16 and above) would donate their hours worked on the weekends to the families with small children.  I mean, seriously, how amazing is that?  It is an ultimate gift and demonstration of taking care of your neighbors. She went on to joke about how sad they were that the walls were going up in the townhome style homes because then they wouldn't all be together anymore.  As I sat there and listened to her, it reminded me how amazing the human spirit can be when we give back to others and how meaningful and inspiring it can be for the rest of us to make even small changes or take a small step to help someone we love or a complete stranger, if only for a day.  This community of people is a small village that is raising one another's children and one another.  The ripple effect of their love and kindness enveloped all of us who came in for the day and left many of us wanting to do more.

Malaak Compton-Rock's book is titled,"If it Takes a Village, Build One."  To me this means, you can start in any small way through volunteering for an afternoon or a day. Helping your neighbor will make you feel inspired and the ripple effect of these efforts extend far beyond what you will know as the inspiration is viral.  So make today 'yournewfavoriteday' and do something small to help, "It takes a Village" and we can all do our part.

Related Posts:
Day 1 of HFHFH Build-A-Thon: Executive Build Day
Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity Build-A-Thon: Day 4
Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity Build-A-Thon: Day 5