By Glenda McCarthy
The day after writing their last exams of 2017, students of College of the North Atlantic’s Architectural Engineering Technology (AET) program at Ridge Road campus in St. John’s flew more than 5,000 kilometres to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village in Guatemala, Central America.
Emotions ran high for those involved in the international humanitarian program, as they worked on housing projects for families used to a very different standard of living; families who live in extreme poverty.
On May 5, the students and their instructor Craig Greene returned from Patzun, Guatemala after participating in what can only be described as a life-changing experience filled with memories and a renewed sense of appreciation. Greene has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since 2008, and brought 10 students on a Global Village build to Ploesti, Romania in April 2016.
Kaitlyn Mclean of St. John’s took part in the Global Village for the first time, and while she says it was hard work, she would definitely go again.
“I had never travelled before so I thought it would be a good experience with my classmates. It was actually super sad,” Mclean said of the families’ living conditions. “I don’t regret going, but it was an eye-opening experience for sure. The way they’re living; we don’t realize how good we have it here compared to people all over the world. It was so sad. I think I cried every day I was down there and I’m not big on emotions.”
The construction took place between April 24-29, where with the help of four Guatemalans, the CNA students excavated footings, tied rebar, poured concrete and placed concrete block walls. They also constructed a stove out of adobe and mud.
“It was super hard work. I have never worked that hard in my life, but I gave it my all,” says Mclean. “It was really hard and people down there work like that every day. They were so strong and they just kept going and kept a positive attitude.”
Sara Kennedy of Corner Brook had participated in last years’ Global Village build in Romania. However, she feels the Guatemala project was a very different experience.
“It went really well. It was definitely a lot different than Romania in a lot of ways. For the build itself, we used different materials, and with the lifestyle we got to see how they live because we went in and built stoves and part of the home. To go in and see how they’re actually living was really shocking. Their current living conditions are really very sad.”
Kennedy says in Romania, the students never had the opportunity to enter the houses, and seeing the way the Guatemalans live made each of participants sad.
“This place is less developed and where we were was more rural. We were right in the middle of the poverty. It was quite eye opening to go down there and see how they’re living. They were thanking us and hoping we do well in our studies, when they are living on the ground. We cried a lot.”
The students put significant effort into raising the $16,000 needed to make the trip, which they did while meeting their obligations in their program. Participation in the Global Village build is a part of the service learning (community engagement) model for the Architectural Engineering Technology program. Now in its 14th year of formal community engagement, projects have ranged from international partnerships in other parts of the world, to dozens of local partnerships, with one of the most notable being their long-term connection with Habitat for Humanity.
For more information about CNA’s Architectural Engineering Technology program visit www.cna.nl.ca.