Student service goes global with Habitat trip to the Philippines

Habitat for Humanity, Philippines tripA group of 10 UW-Green Bay students joined a multinational Habitat for Humanity Coalition this summer, embarking on a Global Village trip to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines to build both homes and lifelong memories.

After an ambitious fundraising push — all told, the group raised more than $32,000 in six months — the students and their Habitat Adviser, UW-Green Bay Dean of Enrollment Services Michael Stearney, departed for Manila July 30. Twenty-four hours, four airports, 8,000-plus air miles and 12 time zones later, they arrived. Exhausted yet excited, the students would be joined by students from four colleges and universities in Japan, as well as Filipino students from Assumption University in Manila.

After a day of rest and recovery, the trip formally began with a visit to nearly completed Habitat village in metro Manila that was similar to one the students would be working on. Each of the UW-Green Bay students was paired with a Japanese student, and each of the pairs spent the afternoon with a host family in the community, seeing their new Habitat home, playing with the children, sharing a traditional Filipino meal with them and hearing their story.

For the next five days, the students worked in Bistekville 4, a poverty housing neighborhood in Quezon City. They spent the entire week working on the second building of the project, a two-story, 12-unit row house. Once the project is complete, a dozen buildings will house about 240 families there.

The students spent the week digging holes for foundation piers, fashioning pillar supports and bases out of re-bar, and mixing and pouring concrete to set the foundation piers and pillars that will support the building. It was hard physical labor, all done manually. It was quite a sight, Stearney said, to see to see a bucket brigade of American, Japanese and Filipino college students moving concrete from one end of the work site to the other, buckets handed from one student to the next and returning down another line as fast as they were coming. The task perfectly embodied the spirit of teamwork and collaboration of this multinational college build.

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The poverty the students witnessed was unlike anything they had ever seen. Still, as the days went on, they observed a small but lively micro-economy and an unexpected vibrancy within the community. The students constantly were surrounded by children, who accompanied them in and out of the community each day, coaxed them into games of tag or Frisbee when they were on break, and convinced the students to take “selfies” with their cellphones. By the end of the week, the children knew all the college students by name, and the students themselves had favorite little friends that would seek them out daily to draw, play or dance.

On the last day of the trip, the students were honored with a program thanking them for their service to the community. There were songs and speeches, accolades that left the students glowing with pride. But the best parts of the show were the performances by the children themselves. The kids, in their finest clothes, sang and danced beautifully before presenting each student team with a giant thank-you card. After taking numerous photos and offering tearful last hugs, the children accompanied the students through the community one last time, to the vans that would return them to their hotel.

It was a profoundly moving trip for the UW-Green Bay students, who experienced the warm bonds of new relationships amid the shock of poverty on a previously unimagined scale — and ultimately, the pride of being able to help.

— Story and photos by Michael Stearney