Volunteering with Habitat Global (in Canada)

My week as a bannock warrior

Our part of the build is done and I’m in the car with 5 others on our way from Cold Lake to Edmonton, a 4 hour drive. It’s a good time to reflect on the week.  This was my first Habitat for Humanity build so there are certainly learnings from that.  More importantly, our team was the first to build on this site and this is the first Habitat build for Métis families on a settlement in Alberta. Which makes this a a special case for learnings.

It’s volun-travel

Traveling with a team for a global build is different from volunteering for a local Habitat build in your town. You travel with a group for a number of days rather than sign up for a day at a time. This Global Village build is more like a group tour traveling and sharing common experiences. The main common experience is the building of a home.

It’s team work, guided by a professional and coordinated by a team leader. It is also a shared cultural experience. In our case we had a chance to talk with many of the community leaders. We visited schools, the health centre, and community centre. We attended their rodeo. And we experienced even more hospitality as they cooked lunch for us each day. Good food it was too.

Like adventure travel, people are in it for many reasons but what is common between these two activities is the quest for learning and personal challenge. In this trip, there are both these elements in the build and the cultural exchange.

First team in; first build for Métis in Alberta

Habitat global trips are available around the world. Many are established centers where Habitat has been building for a while so unknowns are few. This trip was a unique opportunity as ours was the first team of volunteers for this build. And this build is the first time Habitat has built in this type of community. If it works it may become a model for housing for such communities. There are a lot of interested parties watching this from the Habitat side (Global, Canada, Edmonton), the Métis communities as well as other aboriginal groups such as the First Nations.

Home ownership is new

Culturally this is a big shift. The Métis live in a community on communal land. Home ownership is a new concept. Taking full responsibility for your home rather than being supported by community services is a new idea. How community services are affected is still to be determined. And while they do have families who meet the standard Habitat selection criteria, it is not common and those in real need of housing will probably not meet those criteria. How to identify and select the families that should get these houses needs to be carefully considered and done so collaboratively.

There is no doubt however of the need for housing. This build is on the Elizabeth Settlement, one of the 8 Métis communities in Alberta, where there are roughly 1,000 people and 130 homes. We heard of 3 families living in a single house with one bathroom. The 8 homes in this initial build is a drop in the bucket but as the start of something, its far more significant.

Why I am a bannock warrior

First what is bannock? It’s a quick bread made from flour, water, and egg. It can be baked, fried, deep fried, stuffed and shaped. Add oil if you bake it. Depending on the recipe and treatment it can taste like a biscuit or a beignet or donut.

Of our kitchen team at the settlement, Robert was the bannock master letting us explore the many uses of bannock: burger bun, chili bowl, sandwich bun, deep fried with goulash and as pizza dough. Delicious in each application we eagerly awaited lunch where we consumed far too much bannock and even took leftovers back for snacks. We feted Robert for his talent and in turn we were given the title of bannock warriors.

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