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Experiences with the international operating NGO “Habitat for Humanity“

Habitat for Humanity made #6 on Forbes List of the USA biggest aid organizations in 2017. With a focus on shelter and residence, the NGO is operating in the field of emergency relief and development assistance in more than 70 countries.

The principle: capacity building. Since three month now I am a worldbound volunteer in the regional office in Costa Rica. From here we oversee Habitats Mission in Latin America and the Caribbean. But what is it like being a volunteer within the structures of an international operating NGO? What does development assistance include? And what should you bring to be a volunteer at Habitat in 2019?

In this blog post you will find answers to these questions as well as some impressions from San Jose.

Being a worldbound volunteer in an international NGO

Lets begin with some general information of my current workplace, because it’s quite different to all the other placements Visioneers are offering you.

Unlike rather social-practical oriented projects, I work mostly from the office.

This is owed to the fact that the regional office is actually the mini-headquarter for Latin America and the Caribbean and also Costa Rica itself does not conduct any practical projects (house building, workshops etc.) at the moment.

If an office routine is not for you, this project may not be a perfect fit for you.

On the other hand there are some advantages, too: regular working hours, clear points of contact, short ways to the office, your own workplace and a thoroughly organized working environment.

I’m mentioning these facts at this point

(as a clear advantage) because as you might imagine, working in an international team can be challenging sometimes.

Thus, it is helpful if the host organization is internationally positioned and the team is experienced in transcultural communication.

With its 40 employees (mostly Latin America, a few from the USA) the team is familiar and the tasks are various. Right at the beginning, we sat down to define which team I should support according to my resume and interests – so now I am helping to define strategies in order to customize projects in Latin America specifically for kids, teens and young grown-ups. This gives me some insights into different Habitat initiatives and also the opportunity to communicate/ collaborate with co-workers all over the world. The official language is mostly Spanglish, but at the moment my focus lies on a project in Jamaica.

Development assistance a la Habitat?

Habitat for Humanity's mission is bringing the opportunity of an affordable home to everyone. One of the central ideas claims, that a home is a an important step for leaving the circle of poverty. With this intention in mind, houses are being build and structures getting improved on one hand on one hand, on the other microcredits are offered, workshops and seminars held for budget management

(or i.S.v. Housekeeping) as well as other skills, educated on consequences of natual disastersnatural disasters and support of resilience building actions given.

This includes co-operative work on eyelevel with communities, partner organisationsorganizations and governments.

For example: At the moment I am involved in the BRACED (Building Resilience and Capacities Against Emerging Disasters) project in Jamaica, which is struckhaunted by continually intensifying naturaral disasters every year. Most vulnerable are people and families who belong to a share of population called the “urban poor“ and live in informal settlements. This causes problems in regards to territorial rights:

even if they were any, they are often out of date, not only leading to expropriations but also preventing people to prepare against natural disasters in an ideal way- ‘cause who would invest into housing strucktures if there is no clarity in regards to who owns the land you live on.

In collaboration with members of the affected areas, council members and representatives oft he government, Habitat sped up the process of land registrations and made it more cost efficient, forteds houses, offered workshops including certifications to train residents practically.

Habitat helped to establish community based organizations and their plans for neighbourhood developement and did some educational work, which addressed the particcularual needs and potentials of women and younger people. You can see, it is all very complex and comes with a great effort to approach problems in an holistic and sustainable way.

Want to join?

Alongside the general worldbound requirements, formally all all you need are at least a bachelor’s degree, some basic knowledge of the Spanish language, which you are willing to expand (fast) and in the best case first relevant experiences –

though the latter is not a must at all. Fundamental interest on international development assistance and no fear of challenging work should be given.

I am greatly happy to have found a temporary home here with Habitat.

The team is awesome, life with my host family is wonderful, the city admittedly not very pretty,

but therefor many events are happening and you are well connected to discover Costa Rica from here. Subjectively (!) I would call San Jose comparatively liberal. Because of its many universities and students the city offers plenty of entertainment and depending on how reconnoitering you are, you’ll find small private socio-critical art exhibitions. If you have an open personality you will find friends easily.

I think you might have noticed that I feel as right as rain and I’m sure you can have a good time over here too!

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