A humanitarian trip to Fiji – Belinda’s Habitat for Humanity Project
Toitū Envirocare’s GM Technical, Dr Belinda Mathers, is leading a team of volunteers to rural Fiji to build a water and sanitation plant in September. The project is an initiative by Habitat for Humanity, an international organisation that builds and repairs housing and infrastructure for low-income and disaster-affected families.
Belinda has been working with Habitat for Humanity for almost ten years and believes that her volunteer work both complements and expands on the skills she uses day to day at Toitū. Read on for her story ....
When did you start volunteering with Habitat for Humanity?
I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity just after the Christchurch earthquakes, and initially started helping with landscaping and painting. Three years ago I signed up for a two-week trip to Samoa to work on improving a number of houses, alongside a local construction crew. Initially the local team were concerned about having a woman on the build crew so I made sure I demonstrated that I was there to work! It took two to three days for them to get used to having me there.
In April last year I did a similar project in Fiji, building a simple house for a disabled widower and his children. After that trip, Habitat for Humanity asked me to lead this new project.
What appeals to you about Habitat for Humanity?
I really like their ethos, and how they give recipients a hand-up. Habitat for Humanity are holistic in the way that they work, and don’t just focus on short-term solutions. For example, recipients of the houses must commit to doing volunteer hours themselves, learning skills like budgeting or house maintenance, so they are in a position to look after their house.
What is September’s project going to achieve?
This is slightly different from previous trips as we’re doing a water and sanitation project. We will be building infrastructure to connect a small village near Pacific Harbour to a safe and secure water source. The project will have a huge impact; this is an opportunity to help a whole community. Knowing they have a secure water source really takes the pressure off families. I’m excited!
How does your volunteer work help with your day job at Toitū, and vice versa?
Its positive in both directions. At Habitat for Humanity I’ll be team leader, so the leadership and management skills I’ve developed at Toitū Envirocare will be really useful to drive the project. I’ll also be making sure we have the right knowledge and equipment and are working safely, which has been a focus in my professional career.
As the project work is literally ‘on the tools’, compared to the average day at the desk at Toitū, I’ll be learning and developing my skills in a completely different situation. This sort of personal development only helps improve being an ‘all-rounder’ at work and understanding how fortunate I am to be in a position to make a difference.
Why is it important for companies to support volunteer work?
I think volunteering develops the whole person, not just the work person. It helps identify where they fit in the company or the world, and where they want to fit, and what matters to them. Ultimately, it’s different for everyone, and having company support really validates that desire to make a difference and develop a different way of thinking. Sometimes having your team volunteer for a project might not be entirely convenient, but you need to recognise that is an important thing for the local community. Society has a lot of needs that aren’t covered by paid work and everyone has skills they can use to help.
How has volunteering changed you as a person?
Working with Habitat for Humanity has influenced my perspective. If you go to place on holiday, you don’t necessarily see the real country, you see what tourism operators want you to see. When I’m volunteering, I go into the villages and see people who don’t have electricity or who cook on an open fire. It’s given me a different perspective on how lucky we are. Equity is very important to me; if we have to treat a group better so they get the same outcomes, why wouldn’t we do that?
Encouraging volunteering in your workplace brings in a range of benefits including engaged and motivated staff. Toitū supports volunteering in our workplace by giving staff an annual “volunteer day” to work on projects that matter to them. Toitū is also delighted to support Belinda’s volunteering by offsetting the air travel of her team with high quality carbon credits.
We encourage your organisation to see where your staff can make a difference too! If you are interested in joining Belinda’s trip – contact email@example.com