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Simon Romulo Tantoco’s Story

Simon, a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Phillipines, reflects on why he builds.

I have spent a whole day in Manila’s high temperatures and heavy rainfall, laying bricks, carrying heavy sacks full of sand, and mixing cement until my sweat became one with all the ingredients needed to build a house.

Why do I do it? Why do I bother to build for Habitat for Humanity?

I met Alex Eduque at my grandparents’ wedding anniversary. She’s the founder of the Habitat for Humanity Youth Council. She asked me if I wanted to be part of something special — something that has helped build 32,000 homes and 174 communities in the Philippines. I felt it impossible to refuse.

The main goal of the Youth Council is to give young adults the opportunity to help out and to feel the sense of fulfillment one gets when sharing with others. I consider the time and effort I give to Habitat the most important donation of my lifetime.

Our latest big project was Habitat’s multi-country Youth Build. Nearly 5,000 volunteers throughout China, Indonesia, India, Thailand and the Philippines began building homes simultaneously on May 12th 2012 to serve more than 700 families in need.

Our country had the biggest contingent of volunteers, with 2,200 in Navotas and 1,500 in Cagayan de Oro, assisting 344 families.

In Navotas alone, 1,500 families had been devastated by typhoons and flooding. Thousands were left homeless and forced to live in relief centers, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many of their family members had been swept away by the calamity.

All of the volunteers who turned out May 12th had a hand in making our nation better.

Philippine youth leader Simon Romulo Tantoco (left) works at the Youth Build site in Barangay Tanza, Navotas, Philippines. ©Habitat for Humanity Philippines

What do we get from being poverty-fighting students?

At a young age, we now have a purpose. Finding meaning in life is no joke. Spiritual emptiness can easily dissolve tangible wealth and fame. When our minds and hearts were opened, I considered that moment the greatest gift.

Part of the reason I joined the Youth Council was to meet new friends with similar intentions. And I do love and admire the people I work with. And as we serve, we begin to lead.

Over the months, I’ve learned lessons that could never be taught in a classroom. I’ve experienced a tiny fraction of the poverty that 90 percent of Filipinos live with daily. We can never fully understand poverty unless we are in their position.

Looking back, none of my problems or personal losses could compare with those of the people who will be living in the houses we helped build that one day in May. We all learned the importance of managing the challenges you encounter and creating something full of love in a hostile environment.

Before I knew it, I had put up a peaceful and ideal home in my heart.

This is why I build.

Simon Romulo Tantoco, 21, is a member of the Habitat for Humanity Youth Council. A version of this article appeared on Habitat.org, and first appeared in May in the Philippine Star newspaper.

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