Offering the Opportunity of Community: A look at our 2012–2013 Charity

By Vik­ki Ott, CPSM
SMPS San Diego Media Chair 

About once a year I find myself with a pick­axe over­head, mid-swing, think­ing “…now how did I get here?”

Last year, my pick­axe moment was in the town of Debre Birhan, Ethiopia, which sits at 9,300 ft ele­va­tion in the Ethiopi­an high­lands, about 2 hours north­east of Addis Aba­ba. I was there to build homes as a mem­ber of a 13-mem­ber Habi­tat for Human­i­ty Glob­al Vil­lage team.

Dur­ing our 2-week trip, we worked on a series of 350-sq-ft homes built of all-nat­ur­al and local­ly sourced mate­ri­als. We pick­axed into a rock-filled earth to cre­ate a foun­da­tion, car­ried boul­ders and shov­eled dirt to fill in the foun­da­tion, staked thick euca­lyp­tus branch­es for fram­ing, used thin­ner euca­lyp­tus branch­es between the frame to cre­ate walls, lashed walls and frames with strips of wet tree bark, threw a mix­ture of mud/manure to fill in the walls, cov­ered the walls with a lay­er of cement, paint­ed the cement with a mix­ture of cow parts*, and cov­ered the struc­ture with a tin roof.

Walls of eucalyptus
Con­struct­ing walls made of euca­lyp­tus branch­es

Chika home 
Using mud to fill in the walls

We worked on at least a dozen homes, and every team mem­ber had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to take part in all stages of con­struc­tion. Every day we worked side-by-side with future home­own­ers who are required to work a set num­ber of hours of sweat equi­ty, as well as pay a rea­son­able mort­gage, to own a Habi­tat home. As with most Habi­tat projects, it was hard work, but ful­fill­ing for vol­un­teers and future home­own­ers.


A row of fin­ished homes

Dur­ing our build, our team grew con­cerned about the lack of com­mu­ni­ty resources in Debre Birhan. We began to real­ize that there was a need for more resources than just homes. We met par­ents who want­ed their chil­dren to attend school, but the chil­dren often could not make it due to dis­tance, poor weath­er, or oth­er mal­adies. We inter­act­ed with chil­dren who were mal­nour­ished and had noth­ing more than an old paint can lid and stick with which to play. We met women who rais­ing chil­dren on their own and liv­ing in 1-room homes the size of a small liv­ing room, yet they made room for us to join them at their dai­ly cof­fee cer­e­monies. We met indi­vid­u­als who longed for a com­mu­ni­ty, and were doing every­thing pos­si­ble to cre­ate it, but lacked the cap­i­tal resources to do so.

Debre Birhan family
Chil­dren of Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

After we returned to the U.S., a core group of vol­un­teers began to explore ways to help. With­in a year of our return, THE COMMUNITY PROJECT: Ethiopia was estab­lished as a non-prof­it vol­un­teer orga­ni­za­tion with the mis­sion to build three key ele­ments of com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing a school, com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter, and a com­mu­ni­ty gar­den. The project has attract­ed sup­port from many of our orig­i­nal Habi­tat Glob­al Vil­lage team, along with Engi­neers With­out Bor­ders, indi­vid­u­als, church­es, syn­a­gogues, schools, and small and large cor­po­ra­tions. And now, SMPS San Diego.

The SMPS San Diego part­ner­ship came about through the con­nec­tion of THE COMMUNITY PROJECT: Ethiopia vol­un­teer and yours tru­ly. At the begin­ning of our 2012–2013 cal­en­dar year, SMPS San Diego Pres­i­dent Cari­na Theis­sen learned of my involve­ment and pro­posed the chap­ter sup­port this endeav­or. The Board of Direc­tors unan­i­mous­ly agreed and THE COMMUNITY PROJECT: Ethiopia is now the recip­i­ent of a por­tion of the pro­ceeds from our 2012 Hol­i­day Soiree, 2013 Golf Tour­na­ment and 2013 Awards Gala.

As I reflect upon the oppor­tu­ni­ties we’re about to pro­vide to the res­i­dents of Debre Birhan, I real­ize how easy it is to par­tic­i­pate in sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ties that exist all around me. I have the SMPS com­mu­ni­ty, my work com­mu­ni­ty, and my neigh­bor­hood com­mu­ni­ty. It is because of my involve­ment with THE COMMUNITY PROJECT: Ethiopia that I real­ize that’s not the case for every­one.  I hope you will join me, SMPS San Diego, and THE COMMUNITY PROJECT: Ethiopia to sup­port the res­i­dents of Debre Birhan and offer them the oppor­tu­ni­ty of com­mu­ni­ty.

This post was writ­ten by Vik­ki Ott, CPSM, the SMPS San Diego Media Chair and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er at Haley & Aldrich. She is a long-time vol­un­teer and team leader with Habi­tat for Human­i­ty Inter­na­tion­al, and has vol­un­teered on 10 dif­fer­ent builds world­wide. She cur­rent­ly vol­un­teers 1–2 weeks every year to build homes for fam­i­lies in need of decent shel­ter.

*When asked “what are we paint­ing with?”, our site man­ag­er respond­ed ”Cow things. You know, cow fin­gers, cow skin, cow horns and so on.”  Below, I’m 2nd from the right, paint­ing with cow parts. 

 Interior painting
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2 comments on “Offering the Opportunity of Community: A look at our 2012–2013 Charity
  1. Great writ­ing and visu­als about a great cause make a great post! Thanks Vik­ki for all you do to make our world a bet­ter place.

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