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Building Houses (and an Understanding of Americans) with Habitat for Humanity

A group of Miami University students work on a Habitat for Humanity project in Indiana. Photo by Flickr user Brandon Cirillo

I believe life is to live for others, not for oneself, and living for others brings joy in our lives. I have always loved helping people, making them happy, and more than anything I like how my heart feels so close to them.

Last year during my spring break I decided to take a Habitat for Humanity trip for the first time. Habitat for Humanity sends volunteers on trips to build houses for families in need of shelter. I think it is a great community service program that gives people inspiration that a little help from an individual means a lot and is rewarding.

My school sends people who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity on trips to Virginia, New Orleans and some other places. My trip was to Virginia – we didn’t get to travel around the state, but I found it was warmer there compared to Connecticut. I also found that, at least where we were building, most of the people were African-Americans, which is also different from where my school is in Connecticut.

I went on the trip with a group of 10 students from my school, and I was the only kid from Afghanistan. Two of the other kids were from China and Korea, but they were born in the US and considered themselves as Americans. It was different to be the only kid from Afghanistan. I am sure that traveling with a kid from Afghanistan would have also been a new experience for the rest of the group. Therefore, we exchanged our cultures with each other, and understood them better.

I learned how to adjust to living with people who are not the same as I am, and don’t have similar interests. One thing that I learned about American teenagers is that they are very independent, and they like to stay up late and party. Even though during the trip I met kids who were fun to talk with, some of the other kids who liked partying until late at night didn’t really interest me. The kids learned about one thing in my culture - that Afghan teenagers always listen to their elders and respect them. They learned about it by noticing how I respect the teachers who came with us and looked after us.

It was one of the new lessons for me that in life you meet some people whom you like and some that are really different from you, and by finding about what makes them different, you learn more about who you are.

This trip is a great adventure, and people might experience it differently. Though most of the kids enjoyed building a house, some were still lazy and didn’t want to do as much work. So, they probably didn’t have the same experience I did. It is awesome how everyone gets a chance to learn about different techniques for building a house, and discovers new things about their own abilities. One thing that I regret not trying again and again was my fear of working on the house’s roof. I tried it once, but I was too scared even to sit on the roof. So, I climbed down the roof and never went back, but if I am taking the trip again I would like to get over my fear and work on the top of the roof bravely.

I knew that by going on this trip I would build houses, and there might be some challenges I might face. But, I also knew there was something more precious behind those challenges. So, I decided to take this trip, learn about the new things, let my friends know about it, and encourage them to consider taking a trip like this themselves.

Lastly, kids with different habits and personalities might take the trip for different reasons. My main reason was to have a new experience in a different place and to make some new friends. I found out that it was a great trip for people who like being among people and building good relationships with each other. I have always enjoyed assisting people and seeing smiles on their faces, and I have gotten the same experience whenever I have done a community service, whether it is a walk for cancer, fundraising for schools in Afghanistan, or volunteering to be a peer counselor. Overall I believe that every second of our life can be a community service, even if it’s just holding a door open to a person and smiling at them.