Written By: Cate Talaue
A couple of weeks ago, during February Reading Week, I took part in Alternative Reading Week, where myself and 29 other Brock students and staff travelled to Sumter, South Carolina to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Prior to leaving, I knew that this was a service-learning initiative, intended to broaden our horizons in terms of getting involved in the wider community, as well as learning soft and transferrable skills through work. What I didn’t realize at the beginning was how this experience would help me work through the lingering problems in my own life, coming to terms with who I wanted to be and what I want to do in the future.
To say that the first day on the work site was a struggle, is certainly an understatement. Seven hours in the cold (the town set record-breaking lows that week, falling to -15 degrees Celsius at one point), with minimal layers and even less knowledge on construction work, the day couldn’t have gone by any slower. You couldn’t imagine how difficult it was to drive a straight nail in through two pieces of wood. Feeling discouraged and on the brink of tears later that evening, Angela Mott, one of the trip leaders, gave me a pep talk and ensured that I was just as valuable as any other trip participant. She said that I deserved to be here and that no matter what, the work I’m putting into this trip is making a difference, though I didn’t feel that way at the time.
Feeling determined to turn things around the next day; I packed on the layers of warm clothing and ensured myself that today was going to be better, and sure enough, it was. I was finally starting to get a hang of things, and just when I thought I was the only one who was frustrated with myself, turns out the majority of the team was feeling the same way the night before, which was comforting. The team worked well together and by the end of the day, we were finally starting to feel as if we were a part of something greater.
The rest of the week went out with a bang and our efficiency progressed by the end. On the Friday, the last day on the build site, with all of the interior/exterior walls, top plates, headers, windows and a few OSB’s up, we all felt like we accomplished so much in just five days.
I took the remainder of the trip (mostly the 18h bus ride home) to reflect on what this trip meant to me and what I learned. All of the Habitat team members were so grateful for our hard work all week, but I couldn’t help but feel grateful for them, as they opened my eyes to something greater than me, a perspective that I couldn’t have gained if it weren’t for them and this opportunity.
I learned to talk myself ‘up’ instead of being too self-critical to the point of discouragement. I learned that teamwork, leadership and collaboration really do make a difference both on and off the work site. I got to know everyone on the trip, with each touching my life in some way or other. I learned that it’s the many little things that make the most difference, rather than one huge gesture. I learned more about the struggling middle class and that we don’t progress together, but rather each person comes from a different financial background, sometimes hindering them from progressing at the same rate as other people.
But most importantly, I learned that service-learning is something that I should’ve started a long time ago, though it’s never too late to start.