United in a collective mission

International Events Manager Lisa Pierre tells us about a remarkable day's work with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka
The Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka team
The Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka team
The Habitat Build provided the perfect opportunity to join hands with alumni, students and volunteers in improving the livelihoods of citizens who represent the bottom of the pyramid

On Sunday 28 July 2013 the University of London International Programmes collaborated with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka on its third build.

This initiative started in 2010 with a small group of University staff and alumni. As our community of graduates has the means and willingness to contribute to society, we decided three years ago to join hands with this worthy NGO to collectively support a cause which was close to all our hearts. Thus, the idea of joining Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka was born.

Sri Lankan alumnus Lakshan Madurasinghe, Vice-President and board member with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, reveals why such projects are so close to his heart.

"Achieving life-changing goals can only be more rewarding when doing it with your friends, classmates and members of your own community."

“An organisation like Habitat would be nothing without the continuous dedication and hard work of volunteers. Achieving life-changing goals can only be more rewarding when doing it with your friends, classmates and members of your own community. By bringing a sense of community and fellowship to the project you are working on, others feed off this, enhancing the whole experience for all involved. A lifetime of memories to be shared.

"Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka wants people of all faiths and backgrounds to pull together", Lakshan continues. "To bring the skills and experience that they have gained together, to build houses, create long lasting and mutually beneficial relationships and a sense of global togetherness. Put simply, to make the world a better place for those less fortunate. Our main goal is to help people have a sense of self-worth.”

Alumni and staff helping out at Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka

Meeting at 7am, the cheerful gang of 50 students and alumni boarded two buses to head to Negombo. Arriving at the village community centre we were met by all the families who we would be helping out that day. After the traditional lighting of the lamp we were told of the duties and matched up with families.

We were warned it was going to be hard, tough labour. Many seemed hesitant on hearing about plastering, concrete work and carrying heavy rocks. Reading this you may think it doesn’t sound daunting. Being there, it was. We were here to help. Unskilled labourers they said.  We could possibly do more damage than assist.

Having rained all week it seemed like our sun prayers worked as the teams went off with their families to start the day’s work. Members of Habitat for Humanity went around to each house to make sure we were safe, wearing our gloves, and that generally all was under control.

So there we were, mixing cement, hauling buckets of sand, smashing concrete floors and plastering walls. Sweating. Covered in dust. In dirt. Villagers came to watch. We carried on working.

When we reconvened for a lunch break it was clear everyone had had a morning of hard work. But there was an element of sheer positiveness in the air. No one moaned it was too hot. No one said they didn’t want to carry on. No one said it was too much hard work. Instead we returned to our families and finished the day’s work, even helped along by the children.

Habitat for HumanityHaving taken part in each build we have done in Sri Lanka I knew it would be a rewarding, humbling, happy and hot day. But for many it was their first experience. As alumnus Chalinda Abeykoon put it: “The Habitat Build provided the perfect opportunity to join hands with alumni, students and volunteers in improving the livelihoods of citizens who represent the bottom of the pyramid. The build made me relook at things which we take for granted and things we complain about, with a worm’s eye view”.

There is something wonderful in giving back, as they say. To do something truly without wanting or expecting some sort of return. To do something to help someone else because you can, because you want do. To do something and feel part of a team. To feel united in a collective idea and mission.

"I felt proud that our group of volunteers had made history by being part of the largest ever local volunteer build."

The families we worked with were happy, friendly and so hospitable, it was hard to get work done with constant offers of more breakfast or tea or glasses of fresh king coconut. I felt honoured to have shared time with these families. I felt proud that our group of volunteers had made history by being part of the largest ever local volunteer build. But most of all I was glad that in a small way I had given back a little something to a beautiful country that has given me so much!