Steve Owen is a teacher at the American International School of Guangzhou (AISG) and acts as the faculty advisor for the school’s Habitat Campus Chapter. We recently had a chat with him about participating a Habitat build, students’ enthusiasm towards their “Habitat Club” and some other interesting topics.
Habitat for Humanity: Hello Steve, would you like introduce yourself a bit to our readers?
I grew up in California and have been teaching since 1986. In addition to teaching in California and China, I have worked at international schools in Pakistan, the Philippines, and Venezuela. I’ve been a faculty member of AISG since 2016, along with my wife Alycia. I am the Head of Department for High School Social Studies, teaching world history to Grade 9 students and psychology to Grade 11 and 12 students.
Habitat for Humanity: So what’s the history about AISG as a partner of Habitat for Humanity?
AISG has been the site of a student-led club supporting Habitat for Humanity China for more than ten years, and it is one of the most well-attended community service clubs on campus. At least 50 students attend weekly meetings of the “Habitat Club,” as it is popularly known.
Habitat for Humanity: Can you tell us a bit more about the “Habitat Club”?
The major activities of the group include planning for build trips and raising funds to help students pay the costs of attending them. Also, we highlight and share stories about the work we do on build trips by contributing articles to the school’s newsletter and student newspaper, and by putting up photos of our work taken at Habitat sites. My classroom has a lot of Habitat-related decorations, since I’m the faculty advisor for the Campus Chapter.
Habitat for Humanity: We know you and your students just came back from a build trip. How was it?
In mid-March, sixteen students, myself, and my colleague Diana, who is a teacher of computer technology at AISG, went to the village of San Cun, in the Conghua district of greater Guangzhou, located in a rural area of Guangdong Province. We had a wonderful time. Over the years, my students have done many different kinds of work at Habitat builds, mostly unskilled labor but also work that requires some skill to do properly. On this particular weekend we moved several thousand bricks into a partly constructed house for the building of interior walls, as well as moving a large pile of sand for the mortar. We also helped mix the mortar and then transported it in buckets in a human chain up to the second floor, where the work was being done. We also took turns helping trained brick setters to build the walls. All of the kids got a chance to build walls, which is something they all look forward to doing.
Habitat for Humanity: How did the students feel? Do they enjoy the build?
AISG students work hard on their classes every day, including weekends, so they love it when they can go in a group to do something new that they do not usually have chance to do. For most of the students, a Habitat work site is the first opportunity they have had to do construction work. Every time I’ve chaperoned a build trip, the students have been glad for the experience to help, plus they find it fun to do a type of work that is different from their usual school assignments.
Habitat for Humanity: What’s the best part of the trip for yourself and the kids?
Habitat For Humanity China has been working in Conghua for almost 14 years as I know, and AISG has been sending teams of student workers there for several years. So one of the best features of this relationship is that the local residents are now familiar with AISG students. We are always greeted with appreciation and warmth, even by residents who are not direct recipients of HFH assistance. As visitors to a region of China that most AISG students and teachers never see, it is very gratifying to know that the work we do is regarded so highly by local people. It makes the visit so much more significant for kids when they are recognized and favored with the smiles and friendly words of the people they are working to help. These are the kinds of experiences that students remember for the rest of their lives. When AISG students come back to school after working at a HFH trip, they tell their friends and classmates about the work they did and the fun they had. This explains the fact that the HFH chapter at school is so well-attended. And speaking for myself, I also enjoy the nature of the work on a Habitat build, doing physical labor on a project where you can see results immediately.
Habitat for Humanity: Do the students get to know more about the housing and poverty issue through attending the Habitat Club or build trip? What do they think?
Most AISG students are aware in a general way about the effects of poverty, but mostly in an academic sense. Very few of them are directly acquainted with real poverty and its effects on people’s lives. Habitat builds help them see with their own eyes how people benefit when there is an organized effort to lift people up and lend a hand toward helping them have a better life. It also helps them be humble and grateful, in light of the privileged backgrounds almost all of them come from.
Habitat for Humanity: How about parents? Have you ever heard any feedback from them?
All of the parents who have spoken to me are supportive and enthusiastic. They are happy that their kids get the kinds of experiences that working with Habitat gives them. This is also true of the whole school community, even if their kids are too young for high school or are working with another community service group. The AISG Habitat club has a very good reputation, mainly because everyone knows about the work the Habitat for Humanity organization does around the world. The fact that our students are working with Habitat makes their parents very proud.
Habitat for Humanity: Thank you Steve for sharing with us AISG’s experience of participating our Campus Chapter. Do you have any other words you’d like to say? This article is going to be shared on our social media.
I’m glad to be working with Habitat for Humanity as part of my role as a teacher. I get to see attitudes and skills develop in my students that would never appear in a classroom setting. I also get to put my own hands to work on projects I believe in. I have admired Habitat’s work for many years, and it makes me happy to add my own efforts to that work.”
Habitat-related decorations in classroom. ©️Steve Owen
Moving sand in a human chain. ©️ Habitat for Humanity China
Building walls is the activity students most look forward to. ©️ Habitat for Humanity China
“These are the kinds of experiences that students remember for the rest of their lives”. ©️ Habitat for Humanity China
Thanks to interns Thomas Ewbank and YANG Yanyun for helping edit translate the interview.
About Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter
A Campus Chapter is a non-corporate, student-run, student-led organization on a secondary school or university campus that partners with a local Habitat affiliate.
Habitat for Humanity believes that young people are the builders and leaders of today and tomorrow. In that spirit, we seek to offer young people opportunities to partner with Habitat for Humanity in a sustainable and productive way. We continuously seek to create nurturing environments where youth can develop skills in community leadership and teamwork while providing continued valuable resources toward elimination of poverty housing.
Visit our Campus Chapter page for more information and to join us.