Clare Cullen

I could write forever about the kindness of the families, and how welcome they made our team feel. Even though there were language, age, and cultural barriers, we all left the work site that evening with an unshakeable feeling of happiness. Knowing exactly for whom we were working made the world of difference to our humble team.

Clare Cullen, Habitat volunteer and team leader, Easter Youth Build in Romania

In 2016, Clare Cullen was Team Leader of Habitat for Humanity Ireland’s Summer Youth Build in Romania. Here, she shares her story.

There’s no Diet Coke in Romania!

I discovered this fact several hours into my first overseas trip with Habitat for Humanity Ireland. As Team Leader to the Summer Youth Build, I had left Irish shores with a team of 16 year olds and landed in Bacau, Romania.

Our team had travelled to Romania with a purpose, and it may come as a surprise to some that it wasn’t to bemoan the lack of our favourite soft drinks. We had travelled to help build homes and spread hope to some of the 35 percent of the Romanian population that live in substandard housing.

That, in short, is what we did. We spent a week working on reinforcing bars for the foundations of forty homes in Bacau. We surprised ourselves every day, surpassing what we thought we were capable of doing; working in 28 degrees heat, bending metal rods and twisting “metal string”.

We were extremely privileged to meet some of the future homeowners for the houses we were working on. On our first day on site, we were heartily welcomed by a Habitat partner family who presented us with cozonac, dressed in traditional Romanian garb. This surprising and very touching gesture was followed by a day on-site, working with Habitat staff and two Habitat partner families.

I could write forever about the kindness of the families, and how welcome they made our team feel. Even though there were language, age, and cultural barriers, we all left the work site that evening with an unshakeable feeling of happiness. Knowing exactly for whom we were working made the world of difference to our humble team.

The rest of our time on-site was made equally unforgettable by local volunteers – high schoolers who offered us not only their friendship, but an opportunity for cultural exchange between the international and local volunteers. We swapped Irish history for Romanian, shared a love of pop music and introduced our new friends to “the Craic”.

Leading a team on an overseas trip was initially a daunting prospect. From interviewing volunteers to organising team meetings to holding fundraising events, my to-do list seemed to get longer and longer over the course of the months leading up to the trip. In hindsight, it was at times quite hard work!

Having said that, I feel extremely lucky to have led the team I did. My group of volunteers were from day one enthusiastic, responsible and a pleasure to travel and work with. Their fundraising efforts were incredible and their determination to help provide a “hand-up” to a family in Romania was both admirable and enviable. Every day on site, the team worked hard and were always welcoming, inclusive and polite, no matter who they were speaking to. They followed the instructions given, took adequate safety precautions and grew used to my not-so-dulcet tones screaming “WEAR YOUR HARD HATS!” on the rare occasions they would forget.

There’s so much more I could say about my experience leading the team, as well as my experience in Romania. However, I’ll end it on this note: Diet Coke doesn’t matter all that much when you spend a week helping to build homes. Not when you meet families living in inadequate housing, not when you meet such kind, eager people, willing to give their time and their efforts to help tackle housing poverty. Diet Coke really doesn’t matter at all.

 

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