Habitat NYC and Westchester’s vision is a city – and a world – where everyone has a decent place to live. That’s why we don’t work just in New York City and Westchester County, instead, we look beyond New York to build with families in need around the world through Global Village trips.
We’ve served more than 340 families through Global Village trips and our Tithe global giving!
But what’s a Global Village trip with Habitat NYC really like? We asked four members of our recent trip to El Salvador – Cat, Aisha, Millie and Magdalena – to tell us.**
What inspired you to sign up for the trip? Did you fundraise for the trip? If yes, how so?
Cat: An unfair housing situation inspired me to find a cause that focused on helping those with housing. And I hadn’t been on a service trip like this in a while, so I felt it was time to give back and learn from others. I fundraised for the trip by reaching out to family members only and utilizing my company match.
Aisha: For a while I really couldn’t articulate why I felt so strongly about going on this trip. When I found out about it from reading [a Habitat NYC and Westchester email] (sign up here!), I just felt an urge to apply. I’d never been to Central America and I couldn’t see myself visiting the country otherwise. However, this was the worst time for me to spend more money, because I was renovating the second floor apartment in my house. Although I do not like asking people for anything, my good friend encouraged me to do the fundraiser and I raised $600.00 before the trip and a friend of mine recently donated $50.00! Towards the end of the trip, I realized that this trip taught me the virtue of sacrifice.
Millie: My own personal memory of seeing President Jimmy Carter and his wife during his first build on the Lower East Side inspired me to go. I lived in the neighborhood and all these years later, I still have vivid memories of that day. I always dreamed of the day that I could participate in a build. When the opportunity arose, and especially in today’s anti-immigrant environment, I jumped at the chance to participate.
Magdalena: I really like to spend time helping people who need it most. Life is brutal and it’s important to let others know that there are people willing to help. I also enjoy doing it so this was a great opportunity to combine the two!
What struck you most about El Salvador?
Cat: What struck me most about El Salvador was how beautiful the country was and how friendly the people were. Many people warned me when told I was going to El Salvador, but I never felt unsafe. I found it to be a very welcoming country.
Aisha: On the news, I hear about all the violence, gangs and undocumented people coming to the US, but I was struck by how modern the city of San Salvador was. I took an Uber there the first day, and they have chain restaurants like in the States. There was a ton of traffic – a lot of cars on the road. I think I thought I would be surrounded by poverty. I hope this new government does more to help people become more successful and end the gang violence.
Millie: I could not get over how welcoming everyone in the community was to us. They treated us like family and made us feel so special.
Magdalena: I think that what struck me the most about the country was its beauty and the incredibly nice and talented people. What was breaking my heart was the fact that these amazing Salvadorians still, to this day, have so many problems in their country, and are being exploited by their government. This is the saddest thing, which I hope will change soon.
What did you learn about El Salvador that you didn’t know before?
Cat: I learned a lot, because I did not know much about the country going in. I think what struck me the most was Romero’s assassination and learning first-hand from the family the issues with gangs.
Aisha: How amazing the coffee is! I never drink coffee without milk and sugar and sugar, but I had black coffee there without sugar or milk, and it was so good!
Millie: Sadly, I was not well-informed about the history of El Salvador and the role the US has played leading to their present conditions. I also learned how to say peach, in Spanish – “melocoton!”
Magdalena: I didn’t know how gorgeous the country is – its fauna and flora. I also loved the local folk art. It’s so cheerful and vibrant, just like the people! As a huge coffee drinker, I fell in love with the Salvadorian coffee, which was topped with the amazing food!
What was your favorite activity (off the build site, of course!)?
Cat: My favorite activity was any that involved spending time with the family we were helping. I really enjoyed experiencing life as they do, learning from them and seeing how much joy they have. I enjoyed meeting members of their family, community and Church. I also enjoyed getting to know the other Global Village trip members on our night out.
Aisha: Walking around the town of San Ignacio with Don Elmer, the head of the family whose home we built. It was such a beautiful town, the people were so friendly and I loved seeing the countryside. I also loved our drive from the hostel to the work site. I still miss the beautiful mountain ranges.
Millie: My favorite activity had to be the family BBQ… it really felt as if we were among family.
Magdalena: I think I really enjoyed all the small and quick trips. Visiting La Palma and being in this part of El Salvador was absolutely fantastic to me! Driving winding road every day and enjoying a secret garden, which we found one day during our drive back to the hotel. I could not pick one single favorite activity, because I simply enjoyed everything we did!
What would you tell someone who isn’t sure if a GV trip is right for them?
Cat: I would tell them it’s a wonderful way to experience the culture of a place while helping others. It is hard, challenging and very rewarding work. It’s also a great way to have fun too, as you meet and spend time with like-minded individuals.
Aisha: One has to be flexible, easy going and open for anything to go on a GV trip. This trip required me to step so far out of my comfort zone that I almost didn’t recognize myself. I don’t like asking people for anything, but I did the fundraiser. I’ve never done hard labor, but there I was in El Salvador making cement and doing insulation?! I couldn’t stand the place we stayed, my bed was dirty and we had no hot water, but I had to put all that aside and work as hard as I could because Don Elmer and his wife were so sweet and grateful for us. So my advice is to be open to whatever situation one finds themselves in, and put their all into the work because it is worth it.
Millie: I would tell them to think about the reasons why they want to go on trip, to think about the lives that will be changed and how the experience will change their perspective of the world and the people living in it.
Magdalena: I would recommend GV for anyone who likes to work, who likes to help and who wants to learn about other countries and cultures. These trips are perfect for hard-working, curious and friendly people, who wants to help others and make life changing connections! I would love to do another one!
**Answers edited for length and clarity