UAE students help build homes with Habitat for Humanity

Youngsters learn valuable practical skills as well as life lessons by volunteering to improve housing in Jordan and Sri Lanka.

A group of pupils from the UAE’s American Community Schools are spending their school break with the charity Habitat for Humanity learning new skills and building homes for needy families in Jordan and Sri Lanka. Courtesy American Community School
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ABU DHABI // Pupils and a teacher from the American Community School (ACS) are using their holidays to build homes for needy families in Jordan and Sri Lanka through an international volunteer organisation, Habitat for Humanity.

“These experiences are so humbling and helpful to getting me out of the bubble I live in in Abu Dhabi,” said high-school teacher Melissa Dertian, who accompanied 22 pupils ages 16 to 18 on the trip to Sri Lanka.

“It reminds me that there is so much out there in the world that I can learn from.”

The charity works on the principle that housing provides a path out of poverty and it has been working with volunteers across the globe since 1976 through home construction, rehabilitation and repair work to help provide decent shelter to needy communities.

In Sri Lanka, the volunteers from the UAE spent a week helping to build and renovate several homes in the town of Dambulla.

“The students and I worked on several homes in one village,” Ms Dertian said. “We dug latrine holes and built extensions to current living areas.

“I knew it was going to be hot, humid, hard work. But I didn’t expect such a strong connection with the families.

“They were so welcoming and really looked after all of us as if we were their children.

“It was very rewarding to feel like we were helping and making change happen.”

Lamia Makkar, 17, a senior at ACS, is one of the pupils who went on the trip.

She sifted sand to make concrete, plastered brick walls and laid bricks to build walls.

“We worked non-stop for hours on end doing difficult tasks in the Sri Lankan heat and humidity but it was worth it,” she said.

“At no point could we find ourselves complaining since we were doing these tasks alongside the villagers who experience that reality every day.

“That in itself taught us about gratitude and was valuable in adding to our experience”

Diana Nakib, 17, went on another home-build trip to Jordan.

“I’m just so glad ACS has finally offered a service trip to a country in the Middle East because it has always sent students to countries like Sri Lanka, Tanzania or Kenya but never to a country that many of us can really relate to,” Ms Nakib said.

“I, personally, care very much about the humanitarian aspect of what is happening in this region, whether in Yemen, Syria or Iraq, and to be able to go to Jordan, a middle-eastern country that is so close to home, and help a family really did mean a lot to me,” Ms Nakib said.

Mamoon Ali, a cleaner at the municipality of Aqarba in Jordan, is one of the beneficiaries of the Habitat for Humanity programme.

He does not earn enough to make his family home a safer place for his wife and two sons.

“We live in an unfinished house,” Mr Ali said. “The walls are not painted, the kitchen is incomplete.

“My biggest concern is for the health of my family. We do not have a septic tank and we have rodents and insects coming into the house and cause the children to get sick.

“Nobody can visit us and my wife has become physically tired from the situation.

“When I heard that I was selected to be one of the beneficiaries I was so happy.

“My family now will not be suffering from sickness and I can dream that with Habitat’s help I can finally finish my house.”

Milica Dankova, manager of volunteer programmes for Habitat for Humanity Europe, Middle East and Africa said: “Habitat for Humanity has years of experience creating tailor-made opportunities for schools to raise awareness of social responsibility and strengthen community spirit through service learning.

“We work with international schools and universities, helping them fulfil their community action service requirements.

“Students and teachers are welcome to join our global village trips to build homes alongside low-income families in need of improving their housing conditions.”

Habitat for Humanity teams have built, rehabilitated and preserved homes in more than 70 countries. They have helped more than 5 million people with their housing needs.