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Volunteering in Ethiopia

For 21 years Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland have been helping transform lives by providing families with a safe place to call home. South West College employee Laura McCann shares her experience with Way out West.

Spending a fortnight building toilets in the heat of an Ethiopian summer might not be everybody’s idea of a good time, but that’s exactly what seven friends and I went out to do this summer, and we enjoyed it so much that we didn’t want to come home.

Laura McCann

Laura with children in Ethiopia

At the beginning of August a team of friends and I travelled to Ethiopia as part of an ongoing project with Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland, an ecumenical Christian organisation that seeks to improve housing worldwide.

For 21 years, Habitat for Humanity Northern Ireland have been building hope. They work at the heart of communities and help those in need by providing simple, decent housing which allows families to remain healthier, children to have a better chance in education and parents a better shot at a stable income. Since 2005, Habitat Northern Ireland’s work with Habitat Ethiopia has ensured significant improvements for vulnerable communities, with over 1,200 families having been helped through the provision of healthy homes, eco stoves and access to water and sanitation facilities.

It’s a long journey from home to Ethiopia, but arriving there is an experience I will never forget. This was the first time I had ever visited a developing country. I went out wanting to help anyone that was vulnerable or had been marginalised. I was intrigued to see if conditions in Ethiopia were really as bad as I had heard, and after one day I had realised just how bad things were. I was blown away by the images I saw and by how poverty-struck people had become.

While working on site in Addis Ababa, my main job entailed mixing cement, but not like the builders back home. We were doing the mixing by hand and after ten days we had officially become experts, mixing cement all day and laying blocks. The aim of our trip was to successfully build a sanitation facility for the people living in the slums of Addis Ababa. Going into the slums they didn’t have any proper toilet facilities, and Habitat just wanted to provide them with some sort of dignity.

I realised what’s important. Simplicity can mean happiness.

In the slums, housing is terrible. A lot of the houses are just one room, with the majority of people using a local river as their toilet facility, resulting in a rise in disease. One of the key things Habitat is trying to achieve through building the toilet facility is giving the community some responsibility, giving them dignity, and giving them a cleaner environment. Something so simple is so important. It’s only through going there that you realise that a small piece of dignity means a lot.

My Experience was incredible and something that I would encourage everyone to do. Going to Ethiopia for those few weeks helped me reflect and realise what’s important. Simplicity can mean happiness. The impact the project is having on people’s lives is obvious. Every volunteer going out is a small link in the chain and my favourite part was knowing my few weeks of effort were part of something bigger.

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