Attempting to build a house in the heat of Indonesia during the wet season was a hot and harrowing experience, and one of the best I have ever had. We Rocked the House!
The venture is the brainchild of my extraordinary friend Elly Bradbury, who took her friend Suze DeMarchi, singer of the Australian band The Baby Animals, to Java to see how passionate people can transform lives. Together they hatched a plan in 2015 to bring back 300 Aussie difference makers to transform a small Javanese village with Habitat for Humanity.
This meant inspiring people to fundraise, take time off work and spend their hard-earned dollars on flights and accommodation to be involved in the week.
About 140 people took up the challenge and travelled to Java to build 13 houses in a small village located within the surrounds of South East Imogiri in Bantul District, just out of Java’s’ central province YogYakarta, Indonesia.
This was an adventure I will never forget, as I set sail on the 22 October for Java. Fat fifty and more unfit than I have ever been in my life. I didn’t want to go in this condition, I had hoped planning this trip would inspire me to lose weight and get fit ready for the build. But the rebel in me did just the opposite. Telling myself everyday for months before to go out and do some exercise. I thought about forgoing the trip, but then that rebellious spirit said to me to go and deal with the circumstances as they arise. I would not tell anyone to do it the way I did, as we built in the sweltering heat and humidity of Java in the jungle that was the little village Habitat was supporting, with new houses. I really wished I was in better condition.
The adventure started on the flight over, I was seated next to Kristy, a yummy mummy of two extraordinary star-children. She said hello before her butt hit the seat, and I knew she was one of the tribe going over to Java to build. We chatted about her story and her wondrous and rebellious son, diagnosed with autism, who is one of the children on the planet here to change old out dated systems. This means they do not fit into the archaic systems we currently inflict on the brilliant new paradigm children in our schools. Being a parent of such a child is a huge challenge, but as Kristy reminded me many times, a massive blessing and personal growth for her and all who are involved in his life.
Kristy told me she was meeting her sister and friends at Denpasar airport who had been in Bali for a week having a holiday before the build. Her sister Terresa, is a nurse, like many of the AMAZING women I met on the build. The difference with Terresa was, she had been grappling with cancer and was on the build because she was in remission and wanted to give back to life for allowing her illness to subside. An angel in pink boots, imagine feeling so vulnerable and then going out into an extreme environment to build homes for the poor. There really are incredible people in this world.
Terresa had to be extra careful as she had many of her lymph glands out with the operations she had endured, which meant the swelling many of us experience with humidity and flying, would not drain by itself. I chatted with her one night about her story and she shared personal stories of miracles she had witnessed working in hospitals as she spoke silently to herself, asking for patients who were in pain to be helped, and then watched her prayers being answered.
YogYakarta is flanked by massive volcanoes which have erupted over the years destroying many villages and homes. The city has an amazing history of destruction, occupation and rebuilding.
It is a thriving city in the centre of Java congested with many motorbikes and small cars rushing busily from place to place. Motorbikes have become such a common and popular mode of transport, the public transport system is almost nonexistent, and so Taxis or drivers take tourist from place to place. The kids learn to drive a bike at a very young age and even in the hustle and chaos of the seemingly nonexistent road rules, all seems to unfold without incident. As I observed on our daily hour road trip into the hills to the building site. Habitat had employed Indonesian drivers to transport us to the build and take us out at night for dinner, another way the money raised is used to support the city infrastructure.
I am not sure what happened when we arrived, but on the trip to the hotel from the airport, the five busses filled with tired but enthusiastic volunteers, had a police escort with lights flashing, cutting through the congested traffic. We all thought this was hilarious and felt very important!
The first day in the city, Habitat took us to visit a huge temple near the hotel. It was also a chance to meet many of the amazing difference makers on the build in a relaxed atmosphere, and meet the local school children who came to the temple to practise their english with the tourists..
Below is a pic of Tirza, who works with Habitat, on the Temple day. I loved her t-shirt and just had to take a snap. It was exactly how i was feeling in my trepidation and anticipation of doing the build in my unfit condition the next day.
It was a raucous bunch of people on the build, and I wouldn’t have expected anything else. It really takes a special and courageous soul to do something like this and the fun started the moment we arrived. Lots of laughter and high fives!
I met some of the toughest most amazing Aussie difference makers I had ever met. Some with harsh exteriors but hearts of GOLD. I recognised many of them from my friends. They are caring people who have lived a hard life and built up an exterior of toughness for protection, so their soft hearts do not get damaged in the cruelty of this 3D world. And many office workers on an adventure of a lifetime, like me, not knowing what we were really getting into.
I took an army of Angels with me and they did their job really well. I knew I would not be fit for what I was about to do, and I had been watching Laura Byrnes story of being able to see angels around everyone with her physical eyes on YouTube, before I left. She had reminded me to ask them for help, to speak to them and know I am divinely protected in all things I do. And this was just how I felt the whole time I was away.
It was so incredible, we didn’t experience any accidents or traumas as we built in treacherous conditions. In pouring rain, slippery mud, mosquito infested rainforest and the heat! I remarked to the CEO of Habitat Australia the last night of the build, how we all came out unscathed except for a few minor scrapes and bruises.
The first thing we had to do was tear down the existing house. It didn’t take long as it was a flimsy structure with holes in the roof and walls and a dirt floor. This structure had been servicing our small family for many years with grandpa and grandma next door in a habitat built house. It was time to get their very own brick structure with a light so the girls could see to do their homework at night. And we were the team to do this!
As we proceeded to take down the structure, I was aware that we should take it slowly on the first day of the build, so we could survive for the next. We created a line passing roof tiles from one person to the other, the person at the end of the line had the job of placing them in a pile bending constantly to do so. It was this position I thought should be shared amongst the team, and I asked someone to take over from one of the three school mates who were there together, on an adventure of a lifetime.
“Whats the matter mate? One of the guys yell to the other; ” Can’t you do it, is your uterus hurting?”
Oh BOY; I thought. ‘Are we in for a fun week’ ! 😂
My team; B4, was an amazing group of extraordinary human beings, especially the girls! I watch them work tirelessly mixing cement, building metal struts and sifting rocky soil to make finer cement for the brick walls. We shovelled dirt from one place to another.
I winced as I watched some of the guys, office workers, pick up huge boulders and placed them into wheelbarrows to transport next door to the house for the foundations. We had a particularly hard site, as the old house was built on a slope and so our whole week was taken up building the foundation the house would sit on. We didn’t end up erecting an entire house in the 5 days we spent on the build, but we did give them a wonderful foundation to work with.
This seemed to fit with my job as a teacher of deliberate creation, giving people the foundation they need to build a life they want to live. Don’t you love how Life does this! I found little miraculous metaphors like this happening to me the whole time I was away..
The money raised by our efforts not only went towards the building material for the build, it also goes towards employing the villages, many of whom are the relatives of the families we are building for, to finish the job. This gives the whole community a lift as people get much needed work and more money is circulated throughout the village.
Habitat also built a huge meeting area for the Aussie team to have lunch in each day, with plenty of toilets attached. This structure will also serve as a new meeting place for the villages, with many much needed toilet blocks to use.
I love the way Habitat supports the whole community, not just the families receiving a new home. Everyone is included in this venture, no one is left behind.
The villages were happy to see and interact with us. And the Kids! Well, what can you say about the kids… Just so beautiful and happy. Such a JOY to be around, so happy with so little. I know this has been said many times by people who travel to third world countries, but how does this impact us fleshy spoilt white people? It really does give us a new perspective on life and living and makes us so much more grateful for the incredibly privileged life we lead in the west. And hopefully allows us to share some of the wealth we enjoy with our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world.
The family we were building for consisted of Dad, Subadi and his three girls. Two identical twins and an older sister. Their Mother was employed as a maid in Malaysia and would not be back to see her family for three years. Grandma and Grandpa lived next door and their relatives lined the little street we built in. We are hoping to fundraise again next year to try and bring Mum home for a holiday, to see her family and her new home.
Grandpa Simba was particularly helpful in instructing us on how to mix the cement. I suspect he had built many houses over his lifetime.
The family we built for works side by side with us the entire build. Even the kids wanted in on the action. But they are not a part of the building team, just wanting to mimic the adults like most kids do.
My build team was made up of four women and seven guys, including the CEO of Habitat Australia. I fell in love with all of them as I heard their life stories.
One of our team, Nic, had a particularly transformative story and was the oldest on our team, me being the second oldest.
The son of a Javanese father, Nic was born in Indonesia 67 years before. He fled, with his Australian mother, when he was 7.
He shared his harrowing experience with me one night at dinner, telling me how he saw his mother come face to face with a rifle as the rebel forces were fighting against the dutch occupation of Indonesia in the 50’s. Nic shared with me how he witnessed many Dutch people being shot in front of him, just after they gave clemency to him and his mother when she proved she was not dutch.
So the memories of Indonesia for Nic were traumatic at best and something he had tried to put behind him his entire life. But life brought he and his sister Cathy back to the land he was born in, for a build and a healing. I watched as Nic thrived on the build and with the people who shared his blood line. It was such a transformative experience for Nic and for all of us who got to share in his story. Read more of Nic’s story here
Karen, Nic’s partner, was a saving grace for me on the build. She looked after me and helped me out with the fiddly task we had, putting together the metal strut for the foundation. I have never seen a woman with so much stamina and strength work continuously in such humid conditions. Cathy, Nic’s sister, Karen, and I swapped stories as we worked together while Lydia kept us amused and entertained with her fabulous gregarious personality and hilarious stories and selfies with chickens.
Lydia was the first person I connected with as we sat next to each other in the bus the first day on the way to the build site . A spiritual difference maker hippie like me, we spoke the same language and loved talking about Angels, spirit guides and Aliens, which probably freaked out the others as we chatted about these subjects in the bus on the way to the build.
Our team leader was Malcolm, a young man in his thirties and one of the three school mates on the build. Malcolm, a financial adviser, told me he did pro-bono work for Habitat.
Malcolm had also helped out my friend Elly Bradbury, who was the inspiration behind the build, with her financial situation after the tragic death of her husband in late 2014. Malcolm said to me that after hearing Elly’s story, he realised there must be many women who have been left to fend for themselves after the loss of a partner, who could use his help. He told me he was now making this his mission, to help women rebuild their lives and find financial independence.
I don’t think I have met a financial adviser with such a big open heart before. Malcolm is truly a Gem on this planet, here to help the vulnerable find their strength again.
Malcolm school mates were Jarrett and Rob. I loved watching the three guys interact like school boys during the dinners we spent together and the travels in the bus to and from the build each morning and afternoon.
The rest of the team was made up of Cathy’s husband Tom, CEO of Habitat, Martin and his adventurous mate David, who said to me he had filled his bucket list and was finding it difficult to think of new things to put on it. I challenged him to change the world before he left the planet. I think he is well on his way after this adventure with Habitat.
Below is our House, a week or so after we left. Still has a little way to go…
The finished House a couple of weeks later …
We finished the week with a party, a dinner and a song by Suze from the Baby Animals. Her band was struck down with some bad news just before the build and couldn’t make it. Suse and Elly were wondering who would accompany her as she sang a couple of songs promised in the promotion of the adventure…. Wouldn’t you know it Dayne Poole, a big fan of the Baby Animals, had come on the build hoping and praying he would meet his idol Susie, and it just so happened he could play a mean guitar. Not only did he get to meet his idol, he got to play with her on stage on the last day of the build …
Not only were there Australian volunteers, but each team was allocated a couple of Indonesian students, who took precious time out from their studies to volunteer to help us fleshy white folk get the job done. On our team was Cristo, and architect student and Arie studying building and engineering. Both accomplished in their field of expertise. It was great to have their advice and fun to tease the boys about only being there to find an Australian girlfriend. Rob suggested Cristo check me out, but I think I was a bit too old and fat for his liking! Oh boy did we have fun!
I have to say again, it was such an amazing thing to do with a week of my life, and I would love to do it again, next time bringing some of my family with me. The people you meet are incredible. It is not your average holiday adventure, as it takes a special kind of human being to spend thousands of your hard-earned dollars helping out vulnerable third world people on a holiday, which could be spent lying on a beach in luxury somewhere.
Next time you consider making a difference in the world, why not have a look at the next place Habitat is going to build a home for underprivileged people around the world.
Below is a pic with me and Grandpa Bapa Simba..
Thank you to all the wonderful people from Habitat Indonesia and Australia who looked after us so well. It really was a smooth operation and all the people were so helpful and friendly.
If you ever felt like having an adventure of a life time and making a difference in the world, do a Habitat Build. It just might change your life!
BIG LOVE KAren Swain 💕 🙏 💜
Teacher of deliberate Creation, Supporting the Difference Makers.
The Family and Suze
The plans of the house we attempted to build, which will be finished by the villagers, employed by Habitat.
Below Dad Subadi and his twin girls, with little cousin.
Their mother is a maid in Malaysia and will not see her girls for three years.
We hope to bring her back before this to see her family and her new home.