| Thursday, July 29, 1999
|Hitting the Nail on the Head: Habitat for Humanity as Budget Vacation
Your tan will fade, the surf and
sun will be merely a distant
memory, and the sand will remain
in your clothing indefinitely.
Such is the shelf life of your
run-of-the-mill summer holiday.
But if you're looking for a budget
vacation with a lasting impact,
consider volunteering for Habitat
for Humanity. Part meditative
retreat and part working holiday
(and if you're willing to stretch your budget, it can be part exotic
getaway, too), Habitat for Humanity's one- and two-week
house-building programs offer volunteers the chance to visit
underprivileged areas at home and abroad at very low cost and have a
beneficial impact on the residents of the locale where they help build
"decent, affordable houses." Habitat for Humanity, a Christian ministry
group founded in 1976 to eliminate poverty housing and replace it with
a low-cost, livable alternative, also helps form lasting bonds between
volunteers and members of the needy communities which they serve.
Habitat for Humanity's "Global Village" program offers coordinated
volunteer trips all over the world, including the United States. With the
cost of some of the international programs running into thousands of dollars, the real bargains here
are the domestic programs, which at less than half the international programs' price--$775 for two
weeks in October in Robbins, Tennessee, not including air fare (for example)--are downright cheap.
"Global Village" volunteers hail from all over the globe, and participating in one of their planned
house-building sessions means that you're not working with only local volunteers but with a group
of vacationers like yourself.
Additionally, there are 1500 affiliate programs in the U.S. which operate year-round, and offer other
volunteer and fund-raising activities in addition to the house-building. You can arrange a
self-tailored week (or more) of building alongside local volunteers at the domestic Habitat affiliates
for very low cost (except for the requisite donation fee, and cost of transportation to the destination
of your choice). For little or no fee, accommodations are often arranged in community or religious
buildings, and sometimes locals offer up their homes to provide volunteers with a place to stay.
Habitat will also help you locate independent lodgings in the area, whether you are looking for camp
sites, motels, or in summer, college dorms. Donations to the program, in addition to any other
room/board and administration fees, usually run about $50 per person, per week. This money is
distributed among Habitat's various building programs. For more information on this individually
arranged program, call Habitat for Humanity at 800/HABITAT, and ask for extension 2655.
The foreign destinations--Fiji, India, Guatemala, and Ghana, among them--are exotic locales, places
where you'd expect a two-week all-inclusive vacation to run you upwards of $5,000. But Habitat's
"Global Village" program means that starting from $2,100, you can have your two-week getaway to
Fiji, say, whilst experiencing a new culture and helping people in need. The international program
fee includes (in most cases) round-trip air fare from major US cities, basic accommodations at the
site, meals, ground transportation at the destination, and (most importantly) the required
tax-deductible donation (about $350) to Habitat's building work there.
Unlike its domestic counterpart, the "Global Village" program typically has fewer volunteers in each
group; the maximum is usually about 25 participants. Habitat volunteers are met at each site by
members of the local community who will eventually be living in the newly constructed houses.
They work together to improve living conditions, which is an important aspect of Habitat's charity:
the recipients of the houses take an active role in their construction. Habitat for Humanity volunteers
give these communities the tools they need to better their own lives--they don't just throw some
houses together and leave.
Habitat for Humanity is committed to its Christian roots and mission/ministry philosophy: in
addition to building homes for people who need them, it strives to form cross-cultural bonds
between volunteers and community members. But those of you who aren't Christian needn't worry
about being bombarded by evangelical sermons and the like--program leaders are not out to convert
participants. Habitat founder and president Millard Fuller explained it thus: "We can agree on the
idea of building homes with God's people in need, and in doing so using biblical economics: no
profit and no interest." In short, to give selflessly to those who need assistance without seeking
monetary rewards in return--a charitable premise supported by many religious and humanitarian
Upcoming Global Village programs include trips to South Africa (November; which at $1,256 for
one week, without air fare, which is on average an additional $1350, is one of the most expensive
programs), Guatemala (September/ October; price not yet set), Mexico (December; $1,253 for 10
days, without airfare), and India (November; price not yet set). There are even trips over the New
Year period to New Zealand and Fiji where you can be part of building the first Habitat houses of
the new millennium. Note that while in the late summer and fall these trips (Fiji and New Zealand)
cost around $2,100 for two weeks, including round-trip air fare from L.A., the cost can escalate as
much as $500-$700 during the holiday season when air fare costs peak. Inbound and outbound
flights (which Habitat arranges for many of the international programs with flight consolidators) can
be changed to accommodate individuals who wish to stay longer in the host country.
Spending two weeks building houses with Habitat for Humanity is not a vacation in the traditional
sense. At the end of your trip, you will be left with a sense of real accomplishment (you've built
houses, after all) and the knowledge that you have helped to better someone's life.
For details on upcoming "Global Village" programs, or to locate a domestic Habitat affiliate, contact
Habitat for Humanity, 121 Habitat Street, Americus, GA, 31709 (phone 800/HABITAT or
912/924-6935). You can also visit their Web site at www.habitat.org.
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