Spending one’s holidays rebuilding a house

Thursday 26 February, 2015

Warrane Assistant Dean Expo Mejia could not be more proud of College residents who took part in Warrane’s latest work camp.

A group of 18 volunteers headed off to the Philippines late last year to build a house for a family left homeless by typhoon Haiyan (in November 2013).

As usual they had raised their own funds for their trip expenses and for the materials used in construction. But when they realised that extra funds would be needed to complete the building to the point where the family could move in, they voted to dig deep into their own pockets and to work overtime to bring it to completion.

“The project, which was sponsored by the Philippines-based University Centre Foundation, only allowed for building the shell of the building,” Expo explained. “That did not include things like rendering the front of the house, tiling the downstairs floor and the bathroom and building a septic tank.

“When the fellows realised this they decided to combine all their resources to ensure that everything was completed.”

The project was carried out in the township of Tolosa in the province of Leyte which was devastated by the “strongest typhoon ever to make landfall”.

The Silvano family, whose home was destroyed in the typhoon, were forced to build a temporary dwelling from bamboo and sticks while they struggled to re-establish their farm. When the Warrane team arrived, the temporary construction was still housing both parents as well as their five children - two boys and three girls.

Under the direction of professional builder Mike Greenwell, a veteran volunteer of past Warrane Workcamps in Australia and overseas, they set about constructing a strong foundation and concrete walls that could withstand the strongest winds.

On the first storey of the building they created a common area, bathroom, kitchen and loungeroom and on the second level they built bedrooms. For three weeks they worked around the clock.

They had barely completed the basic structure when another typhoon arrived. The good news for the family was that their new home stood up to everything mother nature threw at it.

In all, the group consisted of 15 College residents and three school students, two of whom were from Redfield College in Sydney’s north west.

When the project was complete, the family offered the workers a “very emotional thank you”

“You can imagine, they were overwhelmed,” Expo said. “But I think the impact on them was not as great as the impact on the Aussies. The way they pulled together was inspiring and they learnt a lot as well.”

One of the workers, Liyang He, said he felt privileged to be able to take part. “I was really impressed to witness what the people in a developing country have to do to get by,” he said. “Seeing their struggle taught me not to take the things we have in this country for granted.”

Another participant, William Xie, said: “It was one of the most influential and life-opening experiences I have had. The irony of experiencing the same sort of disaster that ripped through the town we were helping to rebuild made the journey even more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We took a little slice of the hardships and suffering the people around that area had to endure and overcome to become who they were.

“We also saw how helping those people inspired so much affection on both sides.”

On top of all the hard work, the volunteers found time to teach the local youngsters the basics of football as it is played in Australia.  

“We played Rugby on the beach with the kids from the surrounding neighbourhoods and it was just fantastic,” William said. “And we could not believe how much these people trusted us in such a short period of time just from hearing that we were there to help them.”

The workers said it was also a great experience sharing a few beers with the neighbours after a day of hard work.

And when everything was finished the Silvano family put on a big dinner to celebrate, complete with some great local food and a session of Karaoke Filipino style.

(The workcamp took place from 23 November to 17 December 2014 in the township of Tolosa in the province of Leyte, the Republic of the Philippines. For more information contact us at workcamp@warrane.unsw.edu.au)

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