Healing Hand for a Humane Habitat

Many moons ago I attended a graduate business school far, far away. Not very many Indonesians then or since, but the global alumni association has done a pretty good job in staying in touch. Back in school we have Thursday Pub Nights (yes, there is a pub inside the school, run by students), and after graduation the alumni worldwide have First Tuesdays.

Jakarta’s soul-crushing traffic jams have made it too strenuous for us to huddle every first Tuesday when there’s still three weekdays to survive, so it’s First Friday here. Particularly last month, it was a Saturday– at a village a stone’s throw away from Jakarta. Why? Cause we went building houses.

Well, technically the houses had been built by the time we as a group could agree on the volunteer date. What was left was painting that Saturday in a village not far from Sentul City, where one of the homeowners only spoke the local dialect while his young kids, playing with broken plastic toys on dirt, getting doe-eyed whenever expats in our group muttered in English. Split into two groups, each assigned to a house, we got working under the watchful eyes of the homeowners, village head, actual handymen, and supervisors from Habitat for Humanity.

Founded in 1976 and headquartered in Atlanta, the international NGO’s main purpose is to build decent and affordable homes for unfortunate families, recording around 800,000 abodes worldwide since its inception. The Christian charity undertone notwithstanding, the NGO practices non-discriminatory policies in selecting families to help. They’ve had Indonesian presence for 20 years, with 50,000 families assisted in record. Homes are built through donations and, among others, volunteer labor.

Members of our Indonesia alumni chapter donated since last year, sufficient this year for two standard houses tagged for IDR 36 million each. Some of us including yours truly volunteered our hand– where I got my most cherished moments.

I’d expected to get down and dirty, but I didn’t expect to get meditative in the process. As my friend Odie and I stood on the tiny terrace painting the front façade, acutely aware that the homeowner and his kids sat nearby watching us doing the future face of their new house, the genuine focus for task at hand released us from whatever weekday stress we brought to the site that morning.

Turns out, there is something very soothing about applying a coat of fresh paint, carefully rolling the long applicator down the wall. Pressing too much it gets uneven, pressing weakly you get blank spots. Patience is also a virtue, for if you rush to apply another coat the paint will run all over the place. Another bag of tricks needed to ace narrow patches or the wooden surface of door frames and window sills, where awkward angles can botch your effort at the first go. Odie, a property contractor businessman by day, found a new respect for his field crew, while I found a new activity to replace late-night dishwashing that I once felt therapeutic before it got routine.

A renewed sense of gratitude also arose, at least for me, as we went laboring under the hot sun that mid-morning. The donated IDR 36 million got a 36sqm house with a common area, two bedrooms and an indoor bathroom—plastered, painted, roofed, wooden-doored, glass-windowed, and tiled for the bathroom. It’s decent and humanely habitable, but it’s really not that much. I noticed the crude quality of the wood, which I suspected wasn’t even treated for anti-termite, or how small the bedrooms were. As a whole the house was smaller than my medium-sized pad, without any of its facilities like indoor kitchen.

Yet when I turned to see the tattered shack they were living in during construction, a remnant of their initial abode, far improving their living conditions were and hence, as the welcome session showed, profusely thanked for. Odie and I missed last year’s volunteering, where reportedly it was still during rock-chopping foundation phase, but we thoroughly enjoyed our session this year that we’re thinking to enlist as permanent volunteers. Helping hands to them, healing hands for our own.

Many of you perhaps should, too, more than shelling out a few bucks to donate. And if you happen to have bratty teen kids on the verge of becoming fully-spoiled young adults, the kinds who wail at the first imperfect sign of air-con volume and WiFi signal, or accustomed to nannies and drivers carrying their school bags, you definitely should. Drag them by their mollycoddled, very possibly unexercised bottoms (no, don’t get me started on the children obesity phenomenon) for a day’s honest physical labor to help families where cheap smartphones are more than a month’s wage and brick-walled bedrooms aren’t attainable until today. I perfectly understand now why lovely Miss F, a friend’s pal and heiress of one of Indonesia’s largest family businesses, from whom years ago I first learned about Habitat for Humanity’s Indonesian activities, loved volunteering here. She must’ve felt grounded, which, to think of it, in this age of easy access and self-entitlement, what else than that feeling should come highly recommended?

See you at the next construction site, pampered urbanites!

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/09/02/urban-chat-healing-hand-a-humane-habitat.html

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