Giovanna is a recently returned Global Village volunteer. She spent a week building in Nepal for earthquake affected families in January. Here are her reflections after the build…
Dignity is a word that has featured strongly in my thinking in regards to the volunteer build I’ve been doing with Habitat for Humanity in Nepal over the last week. Both recognising the inherent dignity we all have and share, and supporting its expression. The poverty or material deprivation experienced in developing countries is everywhere and challenging. Especially so after a natural disaster as Nepal experienced with the earthquake in 2015. Lack of or limited access to basic human needs, such as housing, clean water, food, healthcare, education and effective governance, creates formidable barriers. Substantial improvements are and have been made in developing countries but Life. Is. Tough. Full stop and without reservation. But it’s still full of human dignity. Inherent human dignity.
As part of the volunteer housing build, I was fortunate to speak to five of the six home owners we worked with to find out a little bit about their lives. It was a privilege for me to do this and it ended up being the most enjoyable part of the volunteer experience for me. The experience was both humbling and inspiring. I mainly spoke to the women and they were incredibly strong and kind people. Their lives are hard but they are not hard people. And I don’t envy or romanticise their lives in any way at all as every day is about basic human survival. So this is why housing – basic infrastructure – is ESSENTIAL as it is about supporting people to more fully express their lives with human dignity.
Giovanna and fellow volunteers in Nepal
I write ‘more fully’ intentionally as everyone’s life has inherent human dignity but the circumstances and challenges in which we live our lives differs greatly depending on the cards we’re dealt at birth. My Buddhist teacher Khenpo Ngawang Dhamchoe often talks about potential and opportunity, and that everyone has the same human potential to develop their minds (and hearts) but what is missing or differs is the opportunity or conditions to fulfill this potential. I apply this idea a lot in my life, both personally and professionally, and see housing as a practical example of a basic condition that is required for people to be able to more fully express their potential and agency. We all need somewhere safe and secure to call home so we can flourish.
I don’t and won’t profess to understand the lives of the local community members we supported as part of the volunteer housing build – I wouldn’t dare do this from my limited viewpoint – but I will use the experience to reflect on the generosity of the local community members for allowing a well-intentioned group of Australians to support them in a very practical way by assisting them to build safe and secure housing. Giving and helping others in a development context is fraught with inherent complications about creating dependency and eroding personal agency, but I admire the model used by Habitat for Humanity that not only raises much needed funds to build houses but provides volunteers/donors with an opportunity to assist in a practical way through physical labour AND having a tiny glimpse into the difficult but dignified lives of our fellow brothers and sisters. Because if the shoe was on the other foot, we’d also like to be supported in a practical way that respects and recognises our inherent human dignity.