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Countdown to Jordan

This week, 13 volunteers from seven countries begin departing for Amman, Jordan, to participate on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village (GV) build (to learn more about the GV program, visit my Global Village page).  We will be in a small village about 100 km northwest of Amman and spending almost a week building a house.

As the team leader for this build, I am honored that each volunteer has chosen to be on my team out of the dozens of builds around the world each year.  We are all volunteers, but as the team leader, this is something I’m rather passionate about, and I consider it an honor when volunteers choose to participate on my builds.  A volunteer will generally apply to several builds at once, and usually choose a build after an interview and question and answer session with the team leader.  There were about 40 applicants for this build, with perhaps a fifth declining this build after some consideration and opting for other builds over concerns of safety.  I was sad to see them back out, but I had to respect their wishes.

Due to the geo-political landscape of the Middle East so far this year, I have to admit that it’s been a real challenge recruiting for this build.  So many times I thought this project might be shelved due to security.  But I’m comfortable in the fact that Habitat for Humanity has a very thorough (and I mean thorough) security program in place.  I’m completely comfortable going to Jordan, keeping in mind that much about safe travel is simply reminding yourself to be respectful of local cultural and religious customs.

The community northwest of Amman where we will be building.

The community northwest of Amman where we will be building.

The Team:  I’m fortunate to have assembled the team I did, however.  We consist of seven men and six women, with seven members brand new to the GV experience, and six GV veterans.  Of the six who have built before, two of them will be completing their fifth build on this project (these experiences are addictive, as any GV veteran will tell you).  There will be four members age 21 and under, with the youngest, Suchir, being 16.  Due to Habitat’s policy on minors, Suchir will be accompanied by his mother, and I have immense respect for her for not only going with him, but allowing him to participate in the first place.  “Mom and dad, I know I’m only 16, but I want to go to the Middle East this summer and build houses.”  Think about it:  his mother has to pay the volunteer fee, take time off work, buy an airline ticket, and spend a week doing physical labor.  It’s no small undertaking.  I offered to let her join the build and at least accompany him to the build site each day, but told her that she didn’t have to feel obligated to do any physical building if she didn’t want to.  As long as she was present per Habitat policy, she didn’t have to build. But I knew from experience that she’d get on board with the project because the enthusiasm of the volunteers is contagious.  But after talking with me on the phone several times, and seeing Suchir’s excitement leading up to the build, she informed me that she is looking forward to participating and can’t wait to get to Jordan.

Regarding the other young people on the build, I spent many hours on the phone with their parents and even grandparents, answering a myriad of questions.  But I didn’t mind one bit.  The family members have to be on board with these projects, and not just the volunteer.  These builds are about so much more than just building houses.  Volunteers return with a whole new perspective on life and about themselves.  One 18 year old told me on the phone last week, “my parents are really excited for this opportunity, and they have complete confidence in you and Habitat for Humanity.”  I’m happy that her parents are supportive, because even though she is technically an adult, it just doesn’t make for an overall complete experience if they were not supportive of her desire to give back.

Why Jordan:  When many people think of poverty, visions of grass huts in Africa or slums in Asia come to mind.  While poverty in Jordan isn’t like that, it still has its challenges.  Jordan has no oil reserves, and little water.  In addition, the Jordanian government has taken in almost two million refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, and tried their best to accommodate and assimilate them.  This has been a real strain on their economy.  While we won’t be building a home for a refugee family, the things mentioned above (oil, water, refugees) have had an impact on the standard of living for many Jordanians.

What We Will be Building:  We will be building a cinder block home approximately 70 sq. meters in size.  There will be bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area, and columns built and designed for the easy addition of a second story at some point in the future.  The house will be built on a concrete slab foundation.  Much of the work will consist of laying bricks, mixing mortar, carrying supplies, and bending and forming rebar for use in concrete.  You can see in the pic below that we at least get to be shaded from the sun by tarps, which will be a big help.

The exact style of house we will be building in Jordan, showing columns in place for the addition of a second story in the future.

The exact style of house we will be building in Jordan, showing columns in place for the addition of a second story in the future.

The Family:  Families who receive homes through Habitat for Humanity are known as “partner families.”  There is a careful selection process, and those chosen must contribute at least 500 hours of “sweat equity.”  So that means that the family for whom we are building will be working alongside us.  Families must also take financial management, budgeting, and household management classes, and they also have to make some financial contribution towards the building.  So families are not just “given” houses.  Rather, Habitat for Humanity gives families the tools and resources to lift themselves out of poverty.

The family we are building for consists of a husband and wife with four children — three girls and one boy, ages two to eight.  The husband, Siaf Abd Allah Al Qedah, is 40 years old and served in the Jordanian army, and his wife’s name is Shadiah Shaheen, 25, and she is a stay-at-home mom.  The family currently lives with Siaf’s parents, as well as his brother and his wife, and his sister.  There are a total of 11 people in one house.  The family currently has a monthly income of about 340 Jordanian Dinars ($500 USD).  They will contribute $106 USD per month towards their new house.  It’s been proven that safe, secure, and stable shelter contributes to a family’s financial independence as well as a child’s education.  There is much more to this project than “going to Jordan to build a house.”  We as a team, along with the donors towards this project, are establishing a long term solution towards breaking the cycle of poverty housing.  As the team leader, it’s my job to take time out from building activities to help educate the team members about poverty in the world and efforts to eradicate it, and what it actually means to live in poverty, as well as explaining the domino effect of the poverty cycle on a family and community.

Ready to Go:  There are always months of excitement and anticipation leading up to GV builds.  Then one day you wake up and realize that the time is here.  I’m just 36 hours from departure.  I’ve packed and repacked at least four times to make sure I have everything I need.  As the team leader, I have a thick notebook filled with lots of colorful spreadsheets, reports, notes, etc. — everything needed to coordinate 13 people from multiple countries to complete the project in such a short amount of time.  I’ve reviewed it at least a dozen times in the past week to ensure the success of our mission.  I have several special activities planned for the team to help make this an overall complete and unforgettable experience.

I will be making one or two updates daily starting Friday, so please be sure to follow along.  See you in Jordan!

Check out other posts in the Social Justice category, or posts about Habitat for Humanity in the Global Village category.

© 2022 Shane Werle