Volunteering with All Hands in Cagayan de Oro

Habitat for Humanity House

I’m here! And I’m busy! Well, I guess no more busy than I would normally be on an All Hands project. Having worked on five of them, I know what to expect – up at about 6:30am, out the door to work an hour later, a 1.5 hour break for lunch and then finished for the day at 4:30pm. Then after shower, a bit of hanging around, some dinner and a nightly meeting the night is mine to do with what I wish at about 6:30pm.

The major problem is that the sun is hot, the work is hard and my body is hating me at the moment so that last thing I want to do after work is hide away and do more work online. I’ve instead been filling my time with early nights, beers with friends, and laying on my bed playing guitar. But this has meant that the mountain of work I didn’t get to before I left Kigali (unanswered emails, outsourced work to text and approve, websites to set up, payments to chase, blog posts to write and a whole bunch of other things) have been pushed aside for over a week.

But here I sit at a nice cafe in Cagayan de Oro, a city of 500,000 people, catching up. I’m staying at a nice hotel with cable, a pool, a gym, wifi, three restaurants and hot water. There’s a huge shopping mall across the road, including a McDonald’s and a Starbucks (two chains that have yet to invade Africa, believe it or not), and I find myself thinking how surreal this all feels.

I’m used to working with All Hands in either very rural places or in cities in Haiti that don’t have a lot going for them and struggling to stay sane without much to do or many food options outside where we live. This time around our food is fantastic, there are lots of places to hang out, our internet and electricity are reliable (although the water is not) and it’s just generally a really nice place to be. Feels strange for me!

The work has been a combination or helping out with Habitat for Humanity as they build 8,000 homes for internally displaced people, many of whom are living in tents right down the road from us. All Hands are hoping to build 50 of their own homes using paid locals and volunteers so we’re trying to learn as much as we can including rendering/plastering with concrete, brick laying, rebar tying, roofing with steel beams and corrugated iron sheets, pouring concrete columns, mixing cement and digging trenches. The methods Habitat are using are worrisome so we’re looking on ways to improve for our own houses. It’s been interesting learning a bit about building with concrete since it seems like most houses in developing countries I’ve been to are built this way.

Mudding is the other main job on the go and I got to get dirty for the first time yesterday a couple days ago. It’s dirty, smelly, wet, gross, incredibly hard work and it was so good to get back to it! I love the camaraderie that develops between people who find themselves caked from head to toe in thick, wet mud. A highlight of the day was when a small team of ladyboys with shovels and wheelbarrows paraded boisterously by, ready to get to work on a house down the street. It was lots of fun and I’m going to do my best to spend the rest of my time clearing mud, if I can.

I initially visited The Philippines in early 2008 and it’s been close to the top of my favourite countries list since then. After coming here again I remember why! I’m not planning on seeing any of the tourist sights this time around, but I am a lot more closely involved with the local community which has added a whole new element to my love for this place. I knew the people were really great after my first trip, but when you’re only dealing with people in the tourist industry, you wonder how real it is. I can tell you that it’s real! People here are lovely and it’s great to be able to work alongside local guys on the Habitat site and also with homeowners who help us shovel out their houses.

So this All Hands project certainly isn’t what I’m used to with the easy living and heavy focus on building, but it’s been great so far and I’m looking forward to the coming weeks!

About Kirsty