African humanitarian project good for Airman's soul

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Tracey Piel
  • 908th Airlift Wing
Although I'm not entirely clear when the notion hit me, I decided I needed to do more volunteer work. One thing's for certain, the Air Force encourages the idea of "giving back" and my chain of command at 25th Aerial Port Squadron has been incredibly supportive of my endeavors.

It all started as it often does, with a simple Google search gone crazy - one link leading to another and one page offering a resource to something else. By the time I was done, I had filled out applications to build houses with Habitat For Humanity's Global Village in both Haiti and Kenya. I received an email; then a call.

And just like that, I was going to Africa!

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I boarded a plane for Nairobi where I met with 20 other volunteers from all over the U.S. and Canada to build houses for Kenyans displaced during the violence of the 2007 elections. I had no idea what to expect.

The people of Kenya are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Children ran up to us on the street with extended hands, asking "How are you?" Shepherds in the middle of fields we passed would raise their hands in hello. The people in the village where we built were no different, as we were met with waves, smiles, hugs and unending kindness.

Building the houses was laborious. I went to build houses, but holy smokes! We used hoes, shovels, and wheel barrows, along with our hands and backs to move dirt, sand, rocks, water and the stones that would serve as walls. That was the extent or our toolbox.

Turns out, it's all we needed, other than a "can-do" attitude, which every one of us had.

Our team dug foundations and built to the rafters, four houses during our time there. And I think I can safely say each of us wished it had been 40. The families we built the homes for were so grateful to Habitat and our team for putting a roof over their heads.

Suddenly, the hours of pushing laden wheel barrows and lifting heavy stones didn't seem like an effort at all. We couldn't do enough.

America truly is the land of milk and honey. With exception, our worst day is in fact a very good day to most. I hardly set out to change the world; I simply wanted to contribute to it. And while I made a very small contribution to better a few families' lives, I can say with certainty I gained more than I gave.