SIS News Archive
Being a freshman, I had been advised to take part in as many activities as possible. I had been told by participating in more activities as a freshman, I would be able to build on from those experiences and by the time Im in junior year, I wont have trouble balancing my extracurriculars, service work, and schoolwork together. I was also told that by participating in more activities as a freshman, I would be able to socialize and acquire more knowledge from the upperclassmen. So, when I had received an email from Ms. Cho on the second floor couches about a Habitat for Humanity project in Guangzhou during the first weekend of Spring Break, I quickly replied to her saying that I was interested. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had heard of Habitat for Humanity before when I was in the first grade in the US, and our school told us about how Habitat for Humanity had recently built a new home for my teacher who's house was damaged previously. Later on, my dad had told me about how he donates $50 to the organization every month. I knew Habitat for Humanity built houses for needy people, and that was about it. So when I first heard that there was such a project taking place in Guangzhou, I imagined a bunch of people going into a poor village and building houses under the bright sun, smiling, working tirelessly, and being a bunch of "do-gooders" hoping to save the world. It never crossed my mind even once that it would be hard work. I don't even know why. I guess I was just kind of brainwashed by the images of Habitat for Humanity online where volunteers flashed their smiles on the camera and everyone seemed to be having fun rather than feeling any sort of pain.
So that was what I was expecting when I agreed to do this project. I was imagining doing good for the society, building houses, having a good time, and somehow I felt like since I was doing good, I wouldn't feel any pain or encounter any hard work that came with the labor. I never could have been more wrong.
Our journey to build houses started on a Friday before spring break. While others while leaving right after school to go on flights to the most exotic places in the world, I was going on a bus to Guangzhou to help build houses along with 15 other student volunteers and our chaperone, Mr. Tsui. On the bus ride there, I sat with my only other freshman buddy, Prisha, where we had heartfelt yet deep conversations about some serious issues such as debating whether or not arranged marriages taking place in India are justified or not, and whether or not Polygamy should be practiced, and where we talked about not so serious issues such as why are Welch's Fruit Snacks called "fruit" snacks when they're actually gummy candies that come in the shape of raspberries and blueberries. Just when I annoyed Prisha enough, we finally reached our hotel in Conghua, Guangzhou. Since it was about 9:00 when we reached Conghua, I couldn't really see what it was like outside. We reached the hotel, which had a beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling so it seemed very, very grand for a place where we were meant to build houses for a poor village. It seemed out of place since we were told that we were building houses in replacement of mud houses and poor infrastructure. We checked into our rooms, which were again, really nice considering where we were. There was even a really high speed wifi network which upon finding out, I rejoiced. After settling into our rooms, we were called to a briefing meeting in a conference room, where we met the CEO for Habitat for Humanity China, and he told us about what we were going to do for the next two days. We learned that we would be working in two villages, Gaoliao, and Loujiao. In Loujiao, we would be mixing cement and smoothing the cement over a dirt wall to prevent landslides from a nearby hill to come and destroy the houses near it. In Gaoliao, we were helping to improve the efficiency of the construction workers in the area who were rebuilding some of the houses so that they would be sturdier.
During the briefing, I also found out that the volunteers of Habitat for Humanity project in Guangzhou, apart from us, were students of Dulwich College Suzhou and the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, university students, and company workers.After the briefing, I was pretty hyped about what was going on over the next two days, and I went to sleep pretty early.
The next day, I woke up at 7:00, got dressed, brushed my teeth, and made my way down to the breakfast area where I met up with the rest of the SIS Habitat team. I learned that for the first day, we were going Loujiao where we would be mixing the cement and pasting it onto the walls. I also learned that because we had 15 students from our school, and that each Habitat team only consisted of 10 members, 5 of us would be joining a team with a couple of members from Dulwich College Suzhou, and I learned that I was one out of the five. I really didn't mind joining the other school, and I was rather excited knowing that I would be able to meet new people and form new connections with other schools. And I did.
There were three Dulwich College Suzhou people in my team, Mr. Jason Stuckey, who I learned was an IGCSE History teacher from New Zealand, Tanmay, a very smart and skilled in debate eleventh grader who also had a website (www.techtan90.com), as well as a girl named Cindy, who was in my grade. All three of them were super cool and outgoing, and they didn't fail to entertain and enlighten us with their jokes and bubbly personalities.
We started off the day by mixing cement. We got our shovels, scooped the sand into wheel barrels, carried the wheel barrels over to another area, added one bag of cement, two cups of some magical powder, eight buckets of water, and then started shoveling in to the mixture to create a nice, toothpaste-like, spreadable cement. It sounds easy, but it really wasn't. The first minute, it was fun, I was getting the hang of it, I guess I was high from the excitement that was fed off by the positive energy of the volunteer. But as time passed, the shovel got heavier and heavier, the sun got hotter and hotter, the volunteers got more and more tired, and the energy that was once there started to die off and our moods were as gray as the color of the cement we were mixing. By the first hour we were in, I just wanted to take a break and go home. But of course, we were stuck in a village that looked like it was in the middle of nowhere, the bus that dropped us off had already left, and we had no where to go. So I forced that desire to go home out of my brain, and carried on with the mixing. Sometimes when I got too tired, I would start singing the song that played in the opening scene of Frozen where the men were cutting the ice so that I would gather up my motivation and keep on working.
It was hard, and after a while, I started to gather up a lot of appreciation for the construction workers in the world. I realized that I see people doing what I was doing every day, and when I see them on the streets, I often dont think twice about them. But after knowing how tiring it actually was to do this, I started to really thank them all in my head. I also started think about some of the people who had to do what I was doing for a very low pay or sometimes no pay, and I started to realize how lucky I was to not have to do this for a living, and thanked my parents for working hard while they were young and being able to give me such a comfortable life. With all the cheesiness aside, I really started to think about the construction workers within my community, and I was able to put myself in their shoes.
By lunchtime that day, I was already extremely exhausted and had the urge to fall asleep right there on the table. But of course, I didn't, but I really wanted to. For the rest of that day, I continued doing the same thing, mixing the cement and pasting them on the wall. That night, I slept really really well. The next day, I woke up around the same time and did the same routine.
This day, we were going to Gaoliao, where we would be moving and stacking bricks to improve the efficiency of the construction workers on the site. In general, it was just 5 hours of creating a "human train" and passing the bricks down from one end to another, placing them into a wheel barrel, and moving them to another area where volunteers would be stacking the bricks into a nice cube shaped formation. It was definitely less laborious then the previous day, but it was still tiring given that each brick was about two or three kilograms, and we were all really sore from the hard work from the previous day.
Again, by lunchtime, I was really exhausted from all that repetitive brick passing and stacking, and this time I actually did fall asleep right on the lunch table because I was so exhausted. But it was all good, because I woke up in time to do another 2 hours of brick passing and stacking. By around 3:00, our work was done, and we had a short and sweet closing ceremony where the Habitat for Humanity China CEO gave a touching speech about the importance of Habitat for Humanity Youth build, and talked about how we were changing the lives of the people in this community.
The ending of this Habitat for Humanity project was bittersweet. I was finally done with all the hours of physical labor and finally got to go home, but I had to say goodbye to all of the amazing people I had met on this trip that I would most likely never get to see again in my entire life. Overall, it was an incredible experience where I gained a lot. I learned about the lives of the people of the village. I was able to reflect on the lives of the construction workers in my community and really start to appreciate them. I learned to stop taking things for granted, and know that every road, wall, house that is built in my community is a result of many hours of hard work and energy exerted by the members of our society, and that I should really appreciate them more. I learned about the feeling of accomplishment, and how sometimes working hard and using up all your energy can give you the most rewarding results. I was able to meet people from all around the region and form new friendships. I was able to see, with my own eyes, how when devoted, motivated, inquisitive, enthusiastic, highly eager people come together, they can create something truly incredible for the benefit of others. Cause that is exactly what happened during this trip.
This trip inspired me to become a more outgoing and determined person. Not only that, but it also taught me to expect more of myself, that sometimes I feel like I really want to give up, but if I force myself enough and push myself out of my comfort zone, I am capable of more than I think I am.
I am really, really glad that I did go on this trip, and I am definitely looking forward to doing more Habitat for Humanity projects in the future.