Volunteer Blog: Deanna & Habitat for Humanity

Deanna doesn’t consider herself much of a risk taker. But in 2013, she travelled more than 11,000 km alone to Chiang Mai, Thailand with Habitat for Humanity.

Inspired by friends who had participated before, she thought it was the perfect way to celebrate her 30th birthday. And despite a minor panic attack after the $3400 trip was paid for in full and there would be no turning back, she said that as soon as she landed in Thailand she knew everything would be OK.

Having never built anything before (nor the person you would call on if you needed help hanging a picture) in March 2013 she set out to help a family build a new home. For two straight weeks, Deanna and a team of twelve Canadians would build a house from the ground up, without using power tools.

“In 40 degree Celsius, humid weather and everything being done by hand, the physical part of building the house was challenging,” she said. And the anxiety of being far away from home didn’t last, as there was work to be done.

The days were long, but they worked diligently on the home. Each day they ate meals with the family and got to know them. Not being much of an adventurous eater, Deanna didn’t mind having a taste of the homemade pad Thai and rice, in fact, she claimed that the best Thai food came right from the “house mom’s” kitchen.

There were some big differences between her life in Calgary and her experience in Thailand. For starters: getting used to using a washroom that was just a hole in the ground and cuisine like ant egg soup. But there were also some startling similarities that she hadn’t expected like seeing a McDonald’s restaurant in the middle of a bygone place. “We were in the old part of the city, with old architecture but you could see McDonalds, it felt like a clash of cultures.”

She learned how hardworking, friendly and appreciative the Thai people are.  She was also blown away by how helpful and hospitable they were – how neighbours would stop by daily to help however they could (without being asked.) She never once felt afraid. Even when exploring Thailand, she always felt safe. She got to experience New Years in Thailand – which was a huge water fight.

This was an empowering trip for Deanna and she learned a few life lessons while on her volunteer adventure:

She learned to be thankful for everything she has. The people who helped out had very little, but they lived well and were happy. She also talked about a member of the team who inspired the rest of them with his work. Despite having just one arm he did the same amount of work as everyone else – never once faltering.

She learned how to be independent and appreciate another culture. Another perk she glowed about was that every day after a hard days work they would go for a $2 thirty minute foot massage.

And although it’s been a few years since her adventure, she still remains in touch with her Canadian Habitat team via social media.

This adventure was a huge accomplishment for Deanna and it made a real difference to people she barely knew. The physical building was satisfying, but so was the emotional side of travelling so far from home.

At the end of her adventure, after a ceremony where the family gave each member of the Habitat team a “good luck” bracelet, they let out lanterns and celebrated with a water fight.

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