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An unforgettable experience I’ve had in Colombia was volunteering for 'Un Techo para mi País - Colombia', an organization that sends volunteers into the poorer areas surrounding Bogota and throughout the country to help construct emergency housing and implement social programs into these communities. We had close to 800 volunteers building 100 new houses in the south of Bogota, helping numerous families in need on the weekend I was involved. It wasn’t an easy weekend by any means but the feeling of achievement and the gratitude from the family I helped was definitely worth the hard work.
It got off to a difficult start arriving late to the school that would become our ‘home’ for those few days, leaving us with about 3-4 hours sleep before an early start at 6am to begin construction on the houses. I was also very much unprepared for the freezing cold temperatures during the night and as a result the first day of building was rather tough. Our house was situated almost at the top of a hill which meant we had to carry all our tools and the parts of the pre-fabricated house up to the site. Some of the panels we had to carry were 3m by 2.5m and took 3-4 people to carry them up. Our first job was to dig the holes for the piles and this ended up taking 2 full days plus another hour or so on the final day as the soil was mostly clay and rock.
My team built a house for a young mother Diana, who has 3 small children. On the same block of land another team built a house for Diana’s mother and some of her 8 siblings still living there. The women helped a lot with the building and looked after us bringing us water and cooking an amazing lunch each day. We also had help from other members of the community and friends of the family. It was the people that made the weekend unforgettable. Everyone was incredible. The other volunteers, the families and their friends were all very amazing people and everyone contributed in their own special way. I was somewhat of a novelty being the only foreigner in my area, especially with the children. They wanted to know where I was from and if I spoke English so I taught then some basic phrases, diffusing a situation when one of the older boys unfortunately repeated rather unpleasant words he’d heard from a film and the younger ones copying him!
I occasionally struggled with my Spanish and a lot of new construction based vocabulary but my team mates were very patient and the construction of our house all came together on the third and final day. The floor went on, the wall panels went up and finally the roof to finish off. We completed the house at around 6pm and held a small ribbon cutting ceremony for the families to receive their new houses. There were tears from everyone, it had been a hard weekend but ‘our’ family now had somewhere dry and clean to sleep. The 'Un Techo para mi País' program in Colombia has now built over 2000 houses for people in need and I’m very pleased to have been a part of that.