My name is Liz Fleming, and I am a retired pharmacist. I came to Northern Ireland from Scotland in 1968, after my husband (also a Scot) got a job in the Microbiology Department of Queen’s University.
I have been a church goer ever since I can remember, and had often thought it would be nice to go abroad and do something useful for disadvantaged people. However, in 1981 my husband died and left me with two children of 11 and 8. I was then a single mother, with no relatives living in Northern Ireland, so going on a mission was out.
When I joined Carryduff Parish Church, I met a man called Jim, who went abroad with Habitat for Humanity, and always went on open teams to build houses in what sounded like very needy places, so I gave him some financial support.
By the time my children had left home, I assumed I was too old to do any building. That was until I met Jenny Williams. She came as a speaker to our Mothers’ Union, and I have never met anyone so enthusiastic and excited about building houses. The main message I took away that night was that if you can hold a brush and shovel, or carry a black plastic bag of rubbish, there is room for you on a Habitat build.
Not very long after this event, our Rector was asked if he could supply some people to make up a team to go to Hungary in September 2008. I was first in the queue to put my name down.
My first venture on a local build with Habitat NI was in the Shankhill. We went as a team building exercise, before going on the trip to Hungary. We had a great time, in spite of the weather, and having to manhandle concrete roof tiles from ground to roof level two stories up. I also spent some time picking nail up off the ground, to reuse later. That was when I learned why you never take your hard hat off in a building site. Danny and Rab, the two site organisers, had us all in fits, and didn’t voice their thoughts that we were all a bit useless, but patiently taught us the way to do it. I have learned many new skills when working locally, and have used them in all the build I have been on. I have volunteered many times on the local sites, as I find the work so satisfying. It is physically ‘challengi!’, but great fun, and very rewarding when you see a job done well. I put my name on a list of volunteers, and when workers are needed, we are sent an e-mail giving dates. I usually put my name down for one or two days, whatever I can fit in. I have heard most of Danny’s jokes now at least twice, but I always laugh anyway!! I’ve worked as an add on to other teams, I’ve worked with youngsters who are learning the building trade, I’ve worked with unemployed new graduates, and one old codger, older even than me who turns up at least four times a week!
Hungary in September 2008 was a closed team build, and we built with an American open team
Bangalore, India in March 2010 was a women’s build, and that was awesome. Nine of us from Northern Ireland joined over 50 other women from all over the world. The work was very hard there, and the heat was draining, but the people were so welcoming, and the Indian ladies in their saris worked as hard as we did, once they saw it was ok for women to build!
Romania in October 2011 was a Big Build, and boy, was it big. 55 of us from Northern Ireland joined teams from all over Europe, and Romania itself, till at one point there were 250 people working together with the home owners, to build nine houses in 4½ days.
My next build, is coming up fast, as our church group, 16 in all leaves for Romania on 31st March, where we will help to build houses for Ceauşescu’s orphans. There we will work with a team of school children from Germany and one from Turkey. That will be a challenge!
One of the things that puts people off going on a build is the amount of money they have to raise. The first time I did it, I was scared to death, as it seemed like a vast sum. I have always been quite shy, and hated the thought. However, I decided that if I was to do this work, I would get the money. This has been my benchmark ever since, and have always found people to be very generous. They are only waiting to be asked. And if you don’t ask, you don’t get. There is a lot of wariness in people about giving to charities, especially if they don’t really know where the money is going. With Habitat, we know exactly where the money is going, and we can show proof of that after the houses have been built, and tell people at home of the gratitude of those who will live in the houses. But the bit I like best about Habitat is that we don’t build alone, we build with the people who will live in the houses. It is a joint venture, and together we learn new skills, meet new people and give back to poor and often down trodden people their feeling of self worth.
I have always felt that working with Habitat is addictive. When you have built once, you just want to do it again…and again! It is fun, the craic is great, the work is hard but very satisfying, you meet lots of great people, and you learn many trades! And you help to ensure that everyone has a decent place to live.
Big Build 2012
Liz took part in Habitat’s Big Build in 2011 and the opportunity to volunteer for Big Build 2012 is now open to volunteers from across Northern Ireland. Volunteers of all ages, shapes and sizes! Habitat are looking for 100 volunteers to build 10 homes in just one week in Romania this October. No construction skills are necessary, just a big heart and the determination to help change lives.
To take part in Big Build 2012 you must commit to raising £1850 per person (including £100 non-refundable deposit). This covers travel from Northern Ireland, in-country expenses and a donation to Habitat’s work. For full details and to register, visit www.habitatni.co.uk