Tag Archives: Habitat for Humanity

Earth Day: Paper not plastic

In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.

___________

The year: 3952

The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)

A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.

“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.

“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.

“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.

In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.

We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.

paper-not-plastic

The reality about plastic hit home for me.

Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.

I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.

A Bolivian musical transporter

bolivian-dancersWe don’t need a time travel machine or a Star Trek transporter to take us to another time and place; we have sounds and music.

(Quickly—what sound does the Star Trek transporter make? Took you back in time, didn’t I?)

Last year in Bolivia, our Habitat for Humanity Global Village group was invited to an evening presentation of traditional Bolivian dances. I arrived on the terrace before the others, just as our host tested the sound system. He put on a song and then left to check on something else. I sat listening to the music in the tropical evening warmth. I looked up at a moon surrounded by feathery clouds. It was a perfect moment. As I sat there, the trip leader joined me. He sensed the quality of the moment and, without speaking, sat beside me to survey the moon. The perfect moment lasted until the song ended and the rest of the group crowded the terrace.

I bought a copy of the music, and when I hear the opening strains of that song, it transports me—boom—back to the tropical warmth of a Bolivian evening.

MJ wrote about this on her blog last week. Paul McCartney transports her to another time. http://emjayandthem.com/2013/06/27/silly-love-songs/

What are some of your time travel songs?

The shortcut to happiness: volunteering

National Volunteer Week: April 21-27, 2013

I value volunteering so much, I made it part of my personal “slogan”: Laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, storyteller, and community volunteer.

Why? Because selfless giving slingshots a person smack dab into the centre of happiness. Go directly to happiness. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Paradoxically, I give selflessly for selfish reasons. I want to be happy, therefore I give.

Not everyone gets the connection. Last year I chatted to an acquaintance about my work as treasurer of the Canadian Authors Association in the National Capital Region. “You volunteer?” she said, as though I had coughed up a lung and handed it to the organization.

“Yes,” I said, perplexed by her vehement reaction. “That’s only one thing I do. I volunteer a lot of my time. It’s very satisfying.”

At that moment, another friend passed by. She turned and said to him, “Did you know that Arlene volunteers.” There went my other lung.

He reacted like I thought he should: confused about why she should be so surprised. “O-o-o-k-a-a-y. That’s . . . good.”

I walked away shaking my head.

She doesn’t know what she’s missing. (And she’s often grumpy, I might add. Selfless giving would do her some good.)

In our household, over the years, we have volunteered at: play groups, day care centres, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, hockey leagues, Little League baseball, the tennis club, community resource centres, L’Arche, SchoolBOX, Habitat for Humanity, the Jerry Lewis telethon, schools (elementary, middle and high), church, the Canadian Authors Association, Ski Patrol, World Vision . . . oh, I know I’m missing some. Last fall, my husband received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in recognition of his career achievements and his commitment to amateur sport. Our household would fit into the category of what the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP) calls “über volunteers”.

We are a very happy household.

My friend volunteers for the Canadian Red Cross. He helped out after Hurricane Katrina. He went to Haiti for a month after the earthquake. He spent several weeks on the Jersey shore after last year’s hurricane. His mantra: “I get back so much more than I give.”

Amen to that.

Habitat-for-Humanity

All-natural medicine: hard work for a worthy cause

Habitat-for-Humanity-Bolivia

“I am thinking of enriching Medicine with a new word: Arbeitskur.”

—Levin in Anna Karenina

A year ago when I participated in the Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia, I spent days shovelling dirt, carrying buckets of mortar, moving armloads of terra-cotta bricks, and breaking up hard soil with a pick-ax. At the end of every day, instead of feeling body-sore and exhausted, I looked with satisfaction at a home for a family in need growing before my eyes, and I felt fantastic.

It’s what Leo Tolstoy calls Arbeitskur, or work-cure.

Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy, reminded me of this. I took the 806-page tome with me on my recent vacation. (As an aside, 800-page books really aren’t for me. By the end, I’m so tired of all the characters I don’t care at all what happens to them, and if one of them should throw herself in front of a train, I don’t feel sorry in the least.)

One of the characters in the book, Levin, decided to spend the day mowing in  the fields with the peasants. After hours of hard, physical labour, instead of feeling sore or exhausted, he looked with satisfaction at the fruits of his harvest, and he felt fantastic. When he shared to the contentment of the peasants, he contemplated the wonders of work-cure.

I grew up on a farm, so I had experienced the satisfaction that comes from spending a day hoisting hay bales or mucking out pens, but I had forgotten. I knew how it felt to tuck with guilt-free gusto into plates of home-made pie after spending the day burning more calories toward a worthy cause, but I had forgotten.

Our society, as a rule, has moved away from hard, physical labour. Instead, we move our bodies in gyms like hamsters on a wheel. It’s physical exertion without the reward of a sense of creation or accomplishment. The euphoric sense of creation or accomplishment that arises out of work-cure takes runners’ high and increases it exponentially. Ka-boom. 

There’s no feeling like it. If you’re feeling a little blue, I can recommend a Habitat for Humanity build.

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

My Bolivian child

I have a third child. He lives in Bolivia.

Okay, he’s not really my child, but I feel a bond with him nonetheless. He came to me because I followed my gut. I listened to that little voice.

In February I went to Bolivia as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village team. (To read more about my experiences, click the links at the bottom of the page.) While there we visited homes operated by the Bolivian Children Foundation. We met the children and toured their rooms—painted by a previous Habitat team. On the day of our first visit, I saw Mateo. (Not his real name.) The moment I saw him, I felt a powerful connection with him. I could hardly take my eyes off him. The little voice, the one that I always listen to, whispered, “You are supposed to look after that little boy.”

Crib room – painted by a Habitat for Humanity team

The staff encouraged us to chat with the children, play with them and pick them up, but I told the other members of my team, “I can’t pick him up. If I do, I won’t put him down, and I’ll have to bring him back to Canada with me.” The feeling was so strong, it frightened me. What was I supposed to do? Adopt a Bolivian toddler? My children are almost grown and my husband and I are about to embark on years of freedom. Was I supposed to bring a toddler into that mix? From Bolivia? But the feeling was so strong, I actually considered it.

As we continued to tour the facility, our hosts told us that international adoptions are not permitted in Bolivia. Okay, so that wasn’t an option. So what was I supposed to do? We left the foundation homes that day, and I still didn’t know, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

Toward the end of our time there, when our work on the home we were helping to build was almost complete, our trip leader said, “Hey, I heard from the people at the orphanage. They are just finishing putting all the final pieces in place to allow Canadian sponsorships of their children.”

Ah, ha! So that was it. The answer had arrived. That’s the way the little voice works, it seems. It gets our attention and gives us a little nudge. If we listen to it and surrender to it, the answer always comes, sometimes in surprising ways.

Now that I’m back in Canada, if I want to feel a little connection to Bolivia, I go to the website of the Bolivian Children Foundation. All the faces on the site are faces of children I met there, children I played with and shared a meal with. I can feel their warm hugs still.

A prayer from their prayer wall, for abandoned boys and girls

Habitat for Humanity: Ghandi was right

“Inspirated” by 3 rituals

Overcoming cultural differences

Transfiguration: The perspective from a Bolivian mountaintop

Writing: Divinely inspired and humanly rendered

Paper, not plastic

Paper, not plastic

The year: 3952

The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa. )

A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.

“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest.

“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands and then sighs.

“It’s another one from ‘Giant Tiger'” he says as he pulls the tattered bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.

A month ago, our Habitat for Humanity team helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.

The site needed to be levelled and graded, and we did this by hand. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags wafted onto the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to be stopped by a plastic bag or a plastic pop bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. The picture at the top is just one small part of the plastic we collected.

The reality of plastic hit home.

Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag is not just that. It is part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away. It is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other better options.

I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than I want my descendants to find beauty in 2000 years, not ugliness.

“We take care of our planet. We use paper.”