Volunteers put working vacation to use in Poland
Unbelievable vacation itinerary! Unique fitness opportunities in an international setting! Unusual motivational technique helps in learning a new language! All these claims proved to be true for a group of servicemembers and civilians from southern Italy earlier this month.
It was not your usual tour group, nor was it a typical vacation package. Included in the itinerary were opportunities to shovel several tons of dirt, unload four tractor trailers filled with cement blocks, spread roadway gravel and heft boulders. The group also had the chance to raise the walls on a new housing unit for 12 families in Gliwice, Poland, discuss Polish culture, sample Polish cuisine and build international friendships. Throw in visits to world-renowned cultural sites and museums and the chance to observe the Polish “Fourth of July,” and you have an unforgettable experience, according to the participants.
The 11 servicemembers and six civilians from Naval Support Activities, Naples and NSA, Gaeta, Italy, took nine days and traveled at their own expense to participate in the Habitat for Humanity, International Global Village program in Gliwice.
“I loved it,” said Hospital Corpsman Ryan Searcey, of the U.S. Naval Hospital, Naples. “I had so much fun,” he said of his first Habitat for Humanity International trip.
The trip’s organizer and team leader, Cmdr. Jim Stobinski, also of the Naples hospital, has 16 years of experience with Habitat International and made his first trip to Gliwice two years ago.
“I said I would be back,” he recalled of his previous visit, and he kept his promise. It took a great deal of work to coordinate the trip, but for him, it was worth it.
“It is particularly satisfying to see the results of my work make a difference in a family’s life,” Stobinski said.
In an effort to maximize the visit, the group traveled almost 24 hours straight, in four vehicles, passing through Italy, Austria, Germany and Poland, where they met Adam Krol, executive director of the Gliwice Habitat International office.
“I have a special feeling for such a group,” Krol said as he welcomed the volunteers. “Instead of having a vacation, you come here to help. You bring an example and not just words. You teach, by showing, how to volunteer. This is important because in Poland, this is an absolutely new idea, this community service.”
Gliwice is the site of the first Habitat for Humanity program in Poland. Unlike typical U.S. Habitat programs, most of the homes are built as multifamily units, and lumber is rarely used. But the intent remains the same: to provide affordable housing to low-income families. The program still relies on volunteers to help publicize and finance the building.
Dental Technician 3rd Class Carmen May of U.S. Naval Dental Clinic, Naples, is no stranger to volunteering, although this was her first trip with Habitat International.
“I’ve been on smaller missions before this, but nothing this big,” May said.
She traces her interest in volunteering to her childhood.
“When I was 12, I went to Honduras with my mother,” she said. “I think that had a big impact. I was a kid and saw little children starving. That made me want to help other people in any way I could.”
Lt. Chris Langan of the Naples hospital had some personal reasons for going.
“It was in Poland, and my great grandparents were Polish, and I’ve never been there,” she said. “It seemed like a great volunteer experience.”
Alissa Portillo, Langan’s daughter, visiting from Germantown, Md., included the Global Village project in her vacation plans.
Portillo said, “It was a chance to spend time with my mom and work alongside her.”
She also enjoyed talking with the program director, Adam Krol.
“He was extremely knowledgeable about the town, sites, history and people,” Portillo said.
Krol believes the cultural exchange part of the Global Village program is as important as the volunteer work.
“It builds understanding,” he said. He made sure the team from Italy had ample opportunities to learn about Polish history and traditions. The volunteers arrived on a Polish national holiday, Constitution Day, and Krol escorted the team to Krakow to observe a parade, visit Wawel castle and the museum and sample the city shops. Later in the week, the team visited the Wielczka Salt Mine, listed on the UNESCO First World Cultural and Natural Heritage list, and Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp of World War II.
Lt. Tamera Tuttle, of the Naples hospital, had visited the region many years before as part of a university course and felt the cultural exchange was much better than her university experience.
“I learned a great deal more this time about Polish culture and the people,” she said. “I believe I learned more during the Habitat trip than I did the entire three weeks I spent in Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany for the university course.”
The volunteers also worked alongside the future homeowners and students from the local Gliwice technical college. Both Tuttle and May considered that experience one of the most memorable.
“I was impressed with the enthusiasm of one Polish student,” May said. “He kept working, even when you could see he was tired and sore.”
“I learned quite a bit about Polish life and customs in a very short time,” said Tuttle, who worked alongside Rafal Striczek, an engineer working for the Fluor Co., a Habitat International sponsor, on the last day.
Other volunteers included Master at Arms 3rd Class Lindsay Dilks, NSA, Naples; Lt. Aaron Castle; Lt. j.g. Imelda Donohue; Lt. j.g. Krystal Turner; Chief Hospital Corpsman John Habowski; and Hospital Corpsman Amy Ruth; all from USNH, Naples. Also volunteering were Marceau Chrisphonte and Douglas Hayes, spouses of Naples servicemembers; civilian Naples hospital employees Michele Ridings and Lori Raymundo; and Lt. Linda Dawsey, Branch Medical Clinic, Gaeta.
The final day at the site was a “blitz build,” where the volunteers, homeowners and local volunteers joined forces to lay as many layers of blocks as they could in one day. They were joined by the U.S. consul-general from Krakow, Kenneth Fairfax, and local sponsors. At the end of the week, the volunteers looked back on their week’s work: truckloads of supplies unloaded at the site, a new back yard along the length of one of the housing units, a freshly graveled roadway, and a significant start on the ground floor walls of the new unit, along with a better understanding of another culture and new international friendships.
May considered the trip a success.
“It’s awesome to come help people. You don’t realize the impact you can have on someone else until you see the joy in their face — that you are helping them,” May said.
— Douglas Hayes is a former editor of the Navy weekly in Naples, the Panorama, and currently works as an editor with Wordcrafters.org.
Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976, and since that time has built more than 150,000 houses.
Information on Global Village programs can be found at the Habitat for Humanity International Web site: www.habitat.org. Or you can request a packet by mail.
You can contact Habitat for Humanity, International by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (800) 422-4828 (toll-free in the United States only) or (229) 924-6935, ext. 2549.
You can also send mail to the program at:
Global VillageHabitat for Humanity InternationalP.O. Box 369Americus, Ga. 31709