From August 10th to 17th, 2018, 22 students from Japan participated in the Habitat for Humanity Global Village China program. The students worked side-by-side with locals to reconstruct the home of a villager in Yunnan province. In the space of one week, a significant portion of the build was completed and many valuable friendships were made.
Joining the trip were 8 male and 14 female Tokyo-based students from Aoyama Gakuin University. Almost all were young freshmen, eager to affect a positive change. Approximately half had previously taken part on a Global Village trip (destinations varied from South Africa, to Sri Lanka, to the Philippines) and those who hadn’t were eager to contribute to their very first build week.
The house they were helping to rebuild was located in Taoshuqing and home to Mr. Wang. There he lived together with his wife, 14 year-old son and 5 year-old daughter. Unlike the other programs within China in which Habitat works in affiliation with contract builders, in Yunnan province, all labour and technical work is undertaken by home owner themselves. For this Global Village trip, the Japanese students worked alongside a group of 6 local village households, all coming together to assist in the construction of the Wangs’ new property.
The volunteers encountered challenge from day one. A typhoon hit Japan, rendering many flights delayed – including the group’s outbound flight from Tokyo, resulting in a change in itinerary. The first day in Yunnan, too, was met with terrible weather. Every one worked tirelessly in rain and refused to let it dampen their spirits – though many said this was one of the most difficult periods of the build week. Even reaching the village every morning was no simple feat: a 30 minute hike followed a 30 minute bus journey. Although there were a number of setbacks, the participants were still able to make a positive difference and team morale consistently remained high.
On the first day at the site, the group had aimed to build a solid foundation as well as filling the structure with a mix of cement, sand, and stone. Determined to accomplish this task, the group worked through the early evening until 6pm – versus the usual 4pm. By this time, the foundation was lain and ready to be built upon. For the rest of the week, the student volunteers provided general support to the group builders through such activities as transporting materials, laying bricks, and mixing cement. And every night, a meeting was held, initiated and led by the students, to reflect on that day’s work.
The volunteers’ commitment to the project was clear throughout the program; manifesting itself in various ways. After just six days, much progress had been made on the new property, including the construction of a 3.2m high brick wall which reached the top of the first floor and the beginnings of concrete flooring. This quick progress was a direct result of the students’ self-motivation, enthusiasm and willingness to take initiative.
The group was also clearly enthusiastic in their interactions with those around them. When working closely with the villagers on a daily basis, the students tried their best to overcome the language barrier by communicating through body language and learning Miao phrases (the language of the local community). No isolating headphones appeared – nor did phones, with the exception of taking photos. After the working day was over, the students would then spend their break time playing with the children in the village.
A rest day for cultural activities is scheduled into the Global Village program, however, due to the delay in the students’ outbound flight from Tokyo, the group was not able to spend time sightseeing as is the norm. In lieu of taking a whole day off to sightsee around the province, as is typical for the Global Village program, they spent more time in the village, bonding with the residents, learning about Miao culture, and enjoying an evening barbeque hosted by Mr. Wang and his family.
The Miao are one of the 55 official government-recognised minority groups and predominantly reside in the south of China (Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, Sichuan etc.). Traditionally, villages were built on mountain slopes and houses were made from wood.
The students of Aoyama Gakuin University are the second cohort of Japanese Habitat for Humanity Global Village volunteers to come to Yunnan province. Beginning in 2002, Habitat China has been working in Yunnan to alleviate rural poverty. In particular, the focus is on those who are vulnerable to, or have been affected by, natural disasters. To date, Habitat has built, repaired, and rehabilitated over 370 homes in nineteen different villages.