by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Mallory Kenna first knew she wanted to go to Africa when she was a young child. As a teen, she formed the desire to do mission work in a foreign country. When she heard about Habitat for Humanity International’s Learn and Build Experience (LBE), both dreams melded to become a reality.
Kenna, who is a senior at Little Falls Community High School (LFCHS), had volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Morrison County during groundbreaking, home building and dedication ceremonies.
She and local Youth As Resources members had also donated to a Habitat fundraiser, contributing work hours for a live auction item.
“Fourteen people donated three hours each to rake and clean up the lawn of the auction winner,” Kenna said.
“I have helped serve meals to homeless people and even seen homeless people in Chicago and Philadelphia, but I don’t think anything could have mentally prepared me for what I actually did and saw during my trip to Africa,” she said.
The 10-year-old LBE program offered participants the option of going to Wisconsin, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Mozambique or Trinidad and Tobago in 2013.
Following an application process that included a phone interview, Kenna was notified in April that she was chosen to participate. The 14 youths and five adults in her group came from across the United States, Canada and Poland.
A 15-hour flight took them from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. From Johannesburg, they had a one-hour flight to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
Group members listened to a presentation about substandard housing worldwide.
“We learned that it costs $180,000 to build a home for six people in New York City; $90,000 to built a home for four in West Virginia; $6,000 to build a home for three in Haiti and only $1,475 to build a home for six in Nepal,” said Kenna.
The next day the group took a four-hour bus ride to Chicumbane, the village where they would help build a house.
“When everyone got off the bus, the grandmothers of the village, the ‘Mamas,’ started to sing to us,” Kenna said. “Even though none of them spoke English, it was so very obvious that they appreciated what we were there to do.”
The group dug the foundation for the house. They filled it with rock and poured water over it to cement it in, Kenna said.
Cement block walls came next. “The hired builder demonstrated with the corners how to do it,” she said. “We put ‘masa’ between the blocks, a mix of dirt, concrete and water.”
It was significant that the home had a concrete floor, which would decrease the incidence of disease and help keep bugs out.
“There is rebar around the upper part of the walls at about ceiling height, and the walls are plastered on the outside —which makes the home last longer,” Kenna said.
The home Kenna worked on now houses a mother, a grandmother and two children. The family and other villagers also worked on the house.
One of the things Kenna noticed was the lack of men in the culture.
“I saw a total of maybe five native men,” she said. “Men just leave at a certain age and rarely come back.”
Kenna also observed that most people don’t know their birthday or their actual age.
“In my family, every birthday is celebrated at almost every age. It’s not uncommon to spend more money on gifts, food and a themed party for one child here than what a typical family in Mozambique earns in one year.” said Kenna.
It was a five-minute walk from the building site to get water, and natives patiently taught Kenna how to fill and carry the water container on her head.
“We take so much for granted and they have to work so hard for everything,” she said. “Their entire living area would fit in my bedroom, yet they are so happy with what they have.”
She realized that the community there was really a village of one big family, where everyone took care of each other.
“Even though they didn’t have much by our standards, they lived a happy life every day,” she said.
The home-building activities ended with the dedication.
“One of the most moving things for me was the dedication ceremony, when our team laid our hands on the house to bless it,” Kenna said. “I realized that I had actually been a part of that awesome experience … and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
The trip was also important in Kenna’s faith journey.
“My faith has always been an important part of my life,” she said. “The ‘Mamas’ who belonged to the church began to sing and I could just feel how connected they are to each other … through their faith.”
Kenna has made some changes in her own life because of her experiences.
“Mallory told me she doesn’t need any new school clothes or shoes or a new outfit for her senior pictures,” said her mom, Mary Kenna.
One of Kenna’s favorite quotes, learned through Habitat during the experience, is, “We are not building for them; we are building with them.”
“This trip has made me realize that I have a strong passion for the work and mission of Habitat for Humanity and I hope that I can continue to serve the organization in some way for the rest of my life,” she said.