Building homes in the United States is one thing. Building them in Nicaragua is quite another.
“Each element of construction was done on site,” said hospitality and business management major Kara Trusty. “When we needed rebar, we took the metal, measured it out, cut it into pieces, bent those pieces, then spaced them out accordingly on other pieces of rebar to be tied down securely with wire, which, of course, we cut ourselves. When we needed concrete, buckets of stone and sand were counted out and mixed by shovel with water. When mortar was needed, the same sand had to be sifted, then counted out in buckets and mixed by hand with water. The intense physical labor that went into each step of laying one layer of brick was incredible, but it spoke so honestly about the hardworking Nicaraguan families.”
Trusty was part of a group who traveled to Nicaragua with Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Village volunteer program.
Chris Sippel, director of international education, Crystal Weitz, director of Campus Compact, and Almar Walter, director of intercultural student services, coordinated the trip, which included nine students traveling overseas with Sippel and Walter.
The team worked at two locations next door to each other. They helped build additions to two homes, making room for the families living there together. According to Sippel, Habitat’s work in Nicaragua has shifted from building new structures to improving existing structures, improving the quality of life for the people of Nicaragua.
When the group wasn’t working, they were getting to know each other and the Nicaraguan people.
One way they did that was through dancing. “Often, we could be found dancing on the work site,” said Trusty. “During a break one day, one of the girls … stared at us for a minute and then burst right into dancing with us … When words failed or jokes didn’t translate, the pure joy of being able to dance or understand each other through a gesture was incredibly heartwarming.”
The group also connected through soccer. The UF students teamed up with some Nicaraguan students and played a game against a Nicaraguan women’s soccer team. Some of the students had played the game before and some had not, but it was a memorable experience for all involved.
That experience fueled the formation of an intramural team that will play on campus during this academic year.
“Students who hadn’t interacted on campus got to know each other through this experience,” said Sippel, who added that the group included members of the UF Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter and the Black Student Union. “It created friendships among individuals who wouldn’t have ever been together on our campus.”
For Brandee Guice, a senior occupational therapy major, the experience was life changing. “I feel more aware of what I want my life to look like and how that will include serving others,” she said. “I am thankful that God provided me with this opportunity to learn and grow as a human being … The families expressed so much gratitude towards us and it felt great to know that I helped make a difference in their lives. They have certainly made a difference in my life, as well!”
For more information about being involved with the UF Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, contact Weitz at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about international experience, contact Sippel at email@example.com.