A Limavady woman who spent time in Ethiopia as a volunteer to tackle the housing shortage has described her experience as “humbling and inspiring”.
Jeannie McCann joined a team of volunteers from the Ulster University for two weeks to support Habitat for Humanity’s Ethiopia Partnership.
The 30-year-old, who was team leader, and the others worked in a project in Fitche, which is 110km north of the capital Addis Ababa.
“We were supporting a project which builds homes in partnership with families who had a child with a disability.
“There is huge housing need in the world, one in four people do not have a safe place to call home. In Ethiopia’s towns and cities, 90 percent of homes are in urgent need of repair. The most vulnerable, including those with a disability, are worst-affected,” said Jeannie.
Jeannie said for 10 years, people from across Northern Ireland have supported Habitat’s Ethiopia Partnership which transforms the lives of the poor and marginalised.
“We were there for two weeks, building beside communities in need and seeing first-hand the impact of support from Northern Ireland,” said Jeannie, who works in communications with Habitat.
“It is humbling and inspiring to build beside communities in need. Despite so many hardships, the people are resilient and determined to create a better future for their children.”
Jeannie hopes the two weeks in Ethiopia will have made a difference, especially to people like 45-year-old Almaz Dagne.
“She has one daughter, Sisay (6), who has one leg longer than the other. At present, their home is one room, around 3m by 4m in size. It has a dirt floor, mud walls and leaking roof. The door is a thin sheet of corrugated iron. They don’t have a proper toilet or access to clean water,” said Jeannie.
“When we visited Almaz she told us how difficult it was to keep pests out, including mice and rats. Every day she outpaced us on site, taking great care and precision in everything she did.
“She told us how happy she was to be moving into her new home; a safe, healthy place for her daughter to grow. ‘I am just thinking about my daughter and doing it for her’, she told us.
“The scale of poverty is huge, but there is also so much hope in stories like Almaz’s. I hope to make a difference, however small, for families like Almaz’s.”
Jeannie says she also hopes to raise awareness of housing conditions of families like Almaz’s “who I will may never meet, and encourage others to do what they can to help”.
The Limavady woman, who has worked in communications for Habitat for six years, said it was “a privilege to witness the impact of Habitat’s life-changing work in Ethiopia”.
She has also volunteered in Haiti and Argentina, and Bolivia and Zambia.
“The opportunity to work in partnership and solidarity with people in need is always humbling.
“We learn so much more than we could ever give about the true meaning of community, generosity and our shared humanity,” said Jeannie.
Jeannie raised £2,000 for the trip, which she explained is going straight to support Habitat’s work.
She thanked everyone who helped her raise money, and hopes she can inspire others to help.
“I am so grateful for the generous support of so many people at home who donated to support the project.
“In Ethiopia, it was clear to see how every penny makes a difference,” she said. “Thank you.”
For people inspired by Jeannie’s work, they can help in lots of ways, she said.
“There are lots of ways to support Habitat’s work.
“Habitat advocates to improve access to affordable shelter and support funding models that enable families with limited resources make vital improvements to their homes. In Northern Ireland, Habitat brings people together from across the community to serve the most vulnerable. It raises funds to support long-term partner programmes in some of our world’s poorest communities,” she said, adding: “Last year alone Habitat touched the lives of 6.6m people.”
To donate, volunteer or to get involved visit habitatni.co.uk or call 028 92 635 635.