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Twin Cities Habitat stories from Mozambique 2011

Global Village trip to Mozambique

In October 2011, 18 staff and supporters from Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity traveled on a Global Village trip to the African nation of Mozambique, where they built homes for three families affected by war and extreme poverty. Members of this Global Village Trip share their stories below.
A renewed sense of commitment
Nov. 1, 2011

How do you distill two and half weeks into a few paragraphs? All my life, I have read about Africa, seen photos, and followed the news relaying the political, economic and health related struggles that this vast continent has endured. But until I experienced Africa for myself, I understood neither the beauty nor the harsh realities of the people who live there.

Perhaps I could paint a picture by sharing my occasional overwhelming sense of hopelessness for the families we were helping to build homes—families whose diet consisted of a simple maize porridge three times a day, with no milk and no protein, even for growing children. Or of seeing one family’s possessions, in their entirety less than what I carried in my roller bag, neatly folded inside their new two-room concrete brick and mortar home. At the same time, these images stand in startling contrast to the joyful songs of faith and praise with which we were greeted — songs sung by these very same families — and of the camaraderie and hilarious fun our team had working together. It was a trip filled with constant reminders of great disparities, but of wonderful similarities, as well.

Having been responsible for the homeowner dedications at Twin Cities Habitat for the past five years — experiencing the joy on our homebuyers faces at those events — and then taking part in the dedication for our Mozambique families — and experiencing their happiness — I feel hope and a renewed sense of commitment to our mission.The needs are great in both Mozambique and the Twin Cities. And I know it can seem overwhelming at times. But I have also learned that each of us in our own unique way, slowly and surely, contributes to building a better world.

Kathy Tolo, Leadership Giving Officer


A full heart
Nov. 1, 2011

I came back and felt my heart was full. I consider myself fortunate to have been on two other Global Village builds in the past and to really see the difference that Habitat for Humanity makes around the world. This year, I felt a pull to do another build and was not sure where I would be going but that did not matter to me. I tried not to have any expectations of the build other than of myself ... to be open, listen, work hard and give my all, be in the moment, and have fun. I will remember the smiling kids' faces - full of creativity and hope - and the strength of the village women to help their kids see a better future. People were full of life and doing the best with what they had. That was great! It was also great to get to know such wonderful people on our team and those working on the ground each day in Mozambique. I am glad our paths crossed and hope they do so more in the future. Cheers and thanks for the opportunity!

Sarvin Patel, Team Member

It takes a village
Oct. 26, 2011

“It takes a village.” I often wondered where in the world is this principal still applied today? Well, we just returned from TC Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Trip to Mozambique, and in the village of Chicumbane, near the town of Xai-Xai, we not only observed true village spirit, but we became a part of it! Eighteen of us, ages 19-72, felt so much at home there that no one wanted to leave. Not a dry eye was left in saying good-bye to these awe-inspiring people.

Isabelle, our soon–to-be homeowner, spent her days balancing gallons upon gallons of water on her head for our daily use, mixing and cooking her corn/cabbage once-daily meal for hours over a small outside “camp-fire,” teaching her four boys the responsibility of taking care of each other and doing chores- and like any mother, scolding them when they hung upside down in trees. But what was invisible, at least to us during these moments, is that Isabelle is HIV positive, along with one of her boys. Yet her physical strength and perseverance are astonishing, all because as a Habitat homeowner, she now has the security of a place to live with cement floors, and the assurance of warmth from the walls of a Habitat home. This makes her children 80% less likely to contract diseases, and Alberto, Aviando, Carlito and Adarto will get to keep this home forever. Tsembaka, who partners with Habitat, helps get AIDS meds to Isabelle and her son. Now that they are Habitat beneficiaries, they also are held accountable to keep their children in school. All of this together makes for a new life and prosperity.

Daily, we showed up to several dozen children surrounding the build site; as we dug, filled wheel barrels, mixed cement, carried bricks and slowly spun out stucco with something that looked like a cheese grater, they watched with eyes of wonder! The singing and playing brought us instant joy because their laughter and hugs meant hope. They fell asleep on our laps at lunch, and then suddenly one of the mothers would sweep them off to a hut. People look after each other here in Chicumbane. Neighbors feed dying friends, and although most are under the force of adversity, they share crops, and no man is an island. Some wore shirts torn in half or trousers without zippers, and diapers did not exist. Others had worn-out huts built of straw and cracked pots and pans, but they all worked hard to make a living selling goods, and some simply to make it day to day. Then, along comes Mozambique Habitat, workers of great tenacity and persistence, to help transform lives. Sharon Petrie, who heads the group, has what it takes, along with her great team, and we had the privilege of joining them for two short weeks.

The outward rejoicing coming from a lady living in a hut with all but the roof collapsed, the radiant singing and clamoring of cackles of another whose lips were cut out by rebels, the laughter of children who live on pennies a day, not to mention the faith of these ever so precious people, combined with Habitat’s efforts, THIS is what makes a village. Our journey, and it was truly marked as a milestone for all, taught us the virtue of community, and the value of helping one family at a time. I know I felt I was touched by angels from Chicumbane village, and will never be the same.

Jennifer Sarteau, Team Member

Real Community
Oct. 10, 2011

We spent today putting in the floors of our homes. It was really the first time our homeowners truly believed they were going to have a home that would keep their families healthy. Concrete floors reduce infant mortality by 80% here in Mozambique, so it is really an accomplishment to get them in.

The homes will all be dedicated Tuesday with a celebration and much-anticipated excitement for the families. (I am sure they are also eager to have their lives back to normal once we leave, although they have been more than gracious hosts.) It's kind of a bitter sweetness when the excitement of finishing the homes combines with the realization that we're leaving our new families.

This evening during our devotions and reflections, I asked each member of the group to tell me what they are taking away from this experience.One theme was common in each individual's thoughts: real community. The people here in our village, called "3 de Febrerio", are truly a community. They work together to build their homes, care for their children, and care for each other. Many commented that it is something we have lost in the states and said how incredibly inspiring it is to be a part of this community. There was an overwhelming sense of pride in what we have done and what Habitat for Humanity is doing in Mozambique.

I am leaving with the excitement that 17 people will go home and tell people of the amazing work here and will bring the story of the people here home. I know this team is excited to have others experience what we have and are excited about expanding the capacity here.

I think we will all miss the children and the community and we will keep them wrapped in our thoughts and prayers.

Trista Matascastillo, GV Team Leader

Welcome Among Strangers
Oct. 9, 2011

It was an experience I will never forget. We arrived a little late only to be greeted by a choir of beautiful Mozambican women and children singing and dancing as soon as they saw the bus pull in. When told we had the option to attend the local church in the community where we had been building, I was unsure of what to expect, but I impatiently anticipated Sunday morning church more than I ever have before. I could not wait to spend more time in the village we had been accepted into that week, a place we were proud to be a part of, a place where I felt at home.

Entering a hut no larger than my kitchen, we were told to sit on chairs up on a small platform that faced a cement floor laid with straw mats where the women and children sat to face us. The service began with singing and dancing, songs about respecting your parents and the story of scattering the seed. Their voices filled the room and the joy expressed in their smiles filled our hearts to the brim.

The oldest woman in the room stood up to share that today was a very happy one for her as it was her first time seeing white people, and having us there, she said, was a miracle of God. The woman, who we later learned was called Sophia, lit up the room with her spirit and laughter. I have never seen a woman of that age with so much energy!

The bishop of the church poured out his heart's desire to visit Minnesota. He found kinship with Dennis Chick, and said if he could choose any one of us to stay with, he would choose this man.

Materially, these people have nothing, but here they were praising God for our presence, people they knew nothing about. They treated us like the most important people in the world, when in reality they were more than royalty to us. I have never felt more welcome in a room full of strangers.

Clementine Sarteau, team member

A Whale of a Tail
Oct. 7, 2011

We have reached the midway point now and we’re starting to feel a little tired - though we are being fed a lot of hard boiled eggs to keep our energy up. We have been told we will complete all three houses by Tuesday so we’re very excited. All three houses now have a roof, which somehow makes us feel as though we have really built a house. We’ve textured the exterior walls and will plaster the interior walls tomorrow. Floors, windows and doors will follow, and then just a short “punch list.”

Everyone has now had the opportunity to take more in-depth tours into the communities and meet with community members about the importance of Habitat and Habitat homes. Today when I arrived at my site I was greeted by about 20 children yelling “Trista! Trista!” It was really cool. They have learned our names and each day they learn a little more English. Everyone stops to say hello and wants to try out their English with us, and we are working hard to pick up the local language of Shamgame. I have noticed many of our team members mixing English with Spanish when trying to communicate, and that seems to work also.
Last night we celebrated Bento’s birthday with a birthday cake for the whole team. He is the Mozambique Habitat Office construction supervisor. A wonderful guy who is a bit stern when he needs to be and a bit of a dry sense of humor (not unlike our own construction supervisor). After some cake we all headed to our beds for an early night.

The sun rises very early here - about 4:30 a.m. - and everyone is up and moving in the entire country. So we too are all up and moving, and many have taken to walking on the beach to start the day. This morning, Rick saw several humpback whales jumping straight up from the ocean and splashing tails. I’m told that whale season normally ends in September here, so they have made a special appearance for us. I think now we have all had the opportunity to see them at least in the distance. The view is really spectacular and just adds to the awesomeness of Mozambique.

Trista Matascastillo, Team Leader

Part of a Milestone
Oct. 6, 2011

Twin Cities Habitat volunteer group is working on Mozambique's 2,000th Habitat house. We just found an internet connection and are excited to share with you our experience thus far!

The trip has been more than we had ever hoped. Our amazing hosts here in Mozambique are truly among the best in the world. We just learned that one of the three homes we’re building is the 2,000th Habitat home built in Mozambique. It is a great honor for us to be part of this historical build.

We left Maputo on Sunday morning and headed north to Xai Xai in the province of Gaza. This is the poorest province in Mozambique and it is definitely the poorest I have ever seen on any of my past travels (poorer than the informal settlements—aka slums—I visited in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras). Needless to say, this visual was motivation enough for us to begin building.

Early Monday morning, we drove about 20 minutes outside Xai Xai. We left the main road and ended up on what was barely more than a sandy foot path. We stopped in front of our first build site and had a kick-off event that included singing and dancing and giving individual greetings and speeches through a translator. We spent the afternoon building and getting to know the families who would be moving in to the homes we were helping build.

The people
October 5, 2011

On Tuesday our work day was rained out, so instead of building, we took a tour of the community. We met current and future Habitat homeowners. We learned what having a home with a concrete floor and a roof meant for their health and well-being. We saw the drastic differences between those who have an amazing resilience but almost nothing and those with the same resilience and a home.

Many people we have met so far have left incredible impressions on us – like the two grandmothers. These two sisters, who we are guessing are in the 70s, are the most magnanimous people I have ever met. Granny #1, as she is referred to, lives in what used to be a hut but over time has been reduced to just the roof sitting on top of the ground. It isn’t more than 3 feet high and has no floor or walls. She crawls on her hands and knees to get in and out and covers the small opening with leaves when she is out to secure what is hers (see picture). Granny #2 is raising a six-year-old in a separate hut which is missing most of its roof. They have absolutely nothing in the way of possessions, but each time we have stopped by to visit they sing and dance and laugh in a way that touches you at the core of your being. I can tell you that everyone in the group has been touched by these two women.

Later we met a 12-year-old boy whose mother is dying of HIV, which will eventually leave him orphaned. His long face and big brown eyes reflect the pain he feels of the certainty that his only known relative will soon pass away. I want to scoop him up and hold him. It took all my strength not to cry with him. However, there is hope for him, too. Habitat Mozambique builds homes for the most vulnerable women and children and this boy will soon be moving in to a new Habitat Home. Habitat works with partner organizations that have helped him enroll in school. It is a tremendous opportunity he never would have had without Habitat. The stories of the people who have touched our lives in the short time we have been here are endless.

Wednesday we were back on site and working very hard. Habitat Mozambique builds with concrete block and we have quickly become very good masons. Dan is 6’-10 and able to lift the block up to the scaffolding with relative ease. Our three sites are led by John Winters, Clementine Sarteau and Norm Baer. Each has experience as a Habitat team leader in the Twin Cities, and I see each one pushing their team to get a little more done than what is on the daily agenda. Our team shares an unspoken eagerness to move these families out of their current situation into one that is safe and healthy. Though unspoken, this eagerness is clearly visible in the hard work the team has already put in.

Thursday we began installing roofs. The excitement is building with each step. We are working hard and enjoying the camaraderie of the group. I am convinced that Jennifer plans to bring a child or two home with her so perhaps I should notify her husband so he can be prepared! Meredith has also picked up a new skill and can carry a jug of water on her head. It is quite impressive since she and the jug weigh about the same amount.

There is so much to tell and we look forward to sharing more stories with you (internet access permitting).
Hita Vonana, (Until Next Time)

Trista Matascastillo, GV Team Leader

Banana-Bacon Pizza?
Oct. 2, 2011

Our arrivals into Maputo Mozambique have all been quite successful minus one bag. We still are awaiting one more arrival. The weather is as beautiful as the people.

Our hosts here are wonderful, and there is this overwhelming sense of peacefulness everywhere. Our large group had the opportunity to take some time to slowly adjust with a day of exploring the surrounding area and a beautiful art market in a beautiful park.

We were surprised at how little hassle we got from vendors who were happy to negotiate prices for our newfound treasures. We saw incredible carvings made from Rosewood, Sandalwood and Ebony. There were incredible fabrics and beaded crafts, but perhaps the most telling treasure found (and purchased) was the Coke bottle carved from sandalwood. It reminds me of the classic movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” You certainly can see such influences throughout the capital city of Maputo. The night ended with a fantastic dinner of fresh seafood on the water and enlightening conversations between the team members.

We have experienced many firsts in our short time here. Our first banana and bacon pizza, our first cold shower and our first day of artful negotiations with the locals. Dennis is convinced he found evidence of a local hockey league, although we are not convinced it is a goalie mask. For most here in Maputo, they are seeing a 6-foot-10 man for the first time (thank you Dan).

Today (Sunday) we will begin our journey North to Xai Xai. We are told it will be a 3 to 5 hour bumpy ride up the coast where the hotel and build site await us. The team is eager to begin the home building activities. It is our purpose here and we have lofty goals of two or three home dedications before we depart Xai Xai.

We are eager to post our build progress and pictures. However, the lack of internet access may prevent us from posting updates throughout the week. We will perform a modified version of the rain dance called “wireless internet,” and hope we can upload the pictures of the team and homes. Stay tuned.

Tchao (Good bye),

Mike Pietig, Team Member

Two Days and a Wake Up
Sept. 27, 2011

Two Days and a wake up. That’s the way I used to count down for a mission when I was serving in the military. Now however, I am counting down to an entirely different kind of mission. This mission, unlike others, is a mission of hope and opportunity. In just a few short days, 18 committed volunteers will be passing through customs as we begin our journey to Mozambique, Africa.

In these last few days we are all preparing our final items packing as lightly and humbly as possible, wrapping up last minute business and personal arrangements with eager anticipation of the adventure that is yet to come. Each of us has been called to make this journey half way across the world for different reasons. Some of us know exactly why we are heading to Mozambique, and others will discover somewhere along the way. But, what we all know for sure is that we will be impacted in a big way by the experience.

Upon arriving, we will travel from the capital city of Maputo to the province of Xai Xai in Gaza (or maybe it’s the province of Gaza in the town of Xai Xai.) It is there that we will begin building the three homes for three different families who have been affected by HIV, war and severe poverty. We will work alongside the families and learn their stories as we add to our own. We will eat local foods and experience a new culture, enriching our own lives as we attempt to give of our selves through what we anticipate as very hard work.

The homes will be constructed of concrete blocks and tin roofs. We will dig pit latrines and supply each family with mosquito netting and water sanitation supplies. If all goes as planned, we will complete and dedicate all three homes for the families before we depart .

Our goal is to blog about the journey as a group sharing our individual perspectives of our collective experience . (Internet availability dependent, of course) I encourage you to check back frequently throughout our journey to catch a peak at what we are doing and the progress of our houses.

Until our return… or as they say in Portuguese, “Ate logo” (AH-tay LOW-goo)

Trista Matascastillo, GV Team Leader

matt haugen

matt haugen

Matt Haugen has been collecting and sharing the great stories of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity as Communications Manager since 2010. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degree from Northwestern University before spending ten years writing for TV news in the Twin Cities. He’s passionate about convincing people when he’s right on things, and being educated about it when he’s not.

Topics: Global Engagement