A Global Village
by Beth Harris
As many of you know, this past month I visited and worked in central Poland with the Habitat for Humanity Global Village program. Due to the generous support of many church members I met my fundraising goal in support of Habitat’s international building projects. I offer my heart-felt thanks for your support of this project, not only financially but also your interest in the project and West Raleigh’s ongoing support of Habitat and affordable housing in Raleigh.
To even embark on this trip took a leap of faith. A friend of mine had gone on several similar trips to India and Romania but on this particular trip she would be the team leader. I decided to take that leap and join her team. I really liked the idea of traveling and helping people at the same time. What I didn’t expect was how much this trip would help me.
When I arrived and met the 10 strangers that would become my team for the next week I suddenly realized that I was just me. I wasn’t a Mom worrying about getting everyone dressed and fed. I didn’t have to go to work or even check my email. For the first time in a very long time I was responsible for no one but myself, I was completely out of context and it was freeing. It wasn’t until I returned and listened to Dana Trent’s Sunday School talk that I realized I had an unintended Sabbath. For while I was physically quite busy, my soul was rested. I had disconnected from my life but was now ready to jump back into it.
Of course, as in everything, this trip was not all about me. I was eager to learn more about Poland and how I, who had never been to a Habitat work site before, could help build a house. Before leaving I studied up on some basic Polish phrases – tak and nie (yes and no), proszę and dziękuję (please and thank you) – and read Marie Curie Slodowski’s biography. I was not prepared for the beauty of the countryside, so many pierogis and the warmth of the people.
Poland has seen much change in its recent history. Even our 30-something translotors remember living under communism and the labor strikes that caused its downfall. Much of the housing in urban Poland consists of severe apartment blocks built during the communist era that are now dangerously overcrowded and falling apart. The housing shortage is so extreme that almost half of Poles live in overcrowded conditions (more than 2 people per room). It is not uncommon to find 8 people living in a 2 bedroom flat. Habitat Poland is unique in that it focuses not just on building houses but on lobbying the government and developing unique solutions to its housing crisis. We toured one building where the homeowners association had been given a grant to renovate the building in exchange for the attic of the building. Habitat created 8 studio apartments in the attic and leases them to young men who are leaving state or foster housing when they turn 18. Most of these boys, either orphans or troubled youth, are sent out to fend for themselves and end up homeless. Habitat used this „Trampoline Project” as a model and is working with the government so that cities across the country can implement it as well.
The family our team worked with were not in urban Warsaw but about 100 km southwest of the city in the farmland of Redzyńskiem. Miroslaw, Agata and their 6 children (ages 2 to 15) live in a 2 room home – a small kitchen with sink, stove and refrigerator plus a larger room that serves as both bedroom for all and living area. They have an outdoor latrine and no place to bathe. The foundation for their new house, built adjacent to their current home, was laid in April 2017 and continues to grow slowly. Like most new homes in the area, it is build of clay blocks and covered in stucco. My team installed Styrofoam insulation on the outside and applied the first layer of stucco. The family worked beside us all week. Kaspar, age 11, was in charge of mixing cement and Veronika, age 9, helped deliver tools and Styrofoam. The older kids took care of the younger kids and helped out on the farm by feeding the chickens and cows or begging Miroslaw to give us rides on their Russian tractor. We shared lunch together and played soccer with the kids after a full day of work. Many of the team members were struck by how different their lives are from most families in the US while I was encouraged by how similar families are, no matter where they live. Kaspar hates broccoli, teases his younger sister and loves to play soccer. Agata makes her children say please and thank you and wash their hands before lunch. Miroslaw takes a break to kick the ball around with the boys but scolds them for not picking up after themselves. Families everywhere are the same and deserve a place to call home.
But you don’t need to travel halfway around the world to see this for yourself. Our own congregation includes housing insecure families and Habitat for Humanity of Wake County has numerous projects you can be involved in right here. The Presbyterian Build begins this fall on October 6 and continues into December as we build a home in the Crosstowne neighborhood in south Raleigh. Look for WRPC workdays in upcoming newsletters and be sure to sign up for at least one workday. No experience is necessary and there is more than enough work to go around.