Habitat for Humanity has allowed this volunteer a chance to travel the world, make new friends, and, most importantly, to help others.
Sue Madden, who lives on Black Lake, near Onaway, has participated in Habitat for Humanity builds in Hawaii, Portugal and Malawi, Africa.
Her first project was a build in Hawaii in September of 2017, called the Global Village Build, in partnership with Blitz Build.
“We built 10 houses in 10 days,” Madden said. “Over 500 people were involved. Each house had a team of about 13 volunteers working in conjunction with a contractor. And the Blitz Build people had a home that they built all on their own. They were a little bit faster than the rest of us.”
Madden got into volunteering for Habitat for Humanity once she retired.
“I retired, and I love to travel, but I’m single, and finding people to travel with is a problem,” she noted.
She has building skills and knows how to use tools, so she thought she could combine that with her love of travel and come up with the perfect match: building with Habitat for Humanity.
“So I thought Habitat would be a great fit for me,” Madden said.
Once she started building and traveling with Habitat, she was hooked.
“There’s two really good things about building with Habitat,” Madden said. “First of all, you get to help people. Because in Hawaii, the average price of a home is $400,000. And, these homes that we built were for people who had a certain percentage of Hawaiian heritage, and they were built on ancestral land.”
She said the homes were two- and three-bedroom homes with about 1,200 to 1,400 square feet, valued at about $120,000 each.
“They all have solar panels, which is a requirement in Hawaii,” Madden said of the homes.
All of the future homeowners had to put in 500 hours of work to qualify for home ownership. They also had to have a job in which they made enough money to pay the mortgage monthly.
“You’re helping people who normally would not be able to have a home,” she said.
She went on to explain the other reasons working with Habitat for Humanity is a blessing.
“And the second good thing about building with Habitat is that you meet so many new people from all over the country, and all over the world, as a matter of fact, which is great,” Madden said. “And it’s just a real interesting way to meet people.”
Once she thought about it, she said there’s a third reason why it’s great to work with Habitat.
“And the third thing that is really good about traveling and working with Habitat is that you get to stay for a vacation afterwards, if you want to,” she added.
Prior to that visit, Madden had never been to Hawaii. She plans her builds in places she’d like to visit, and enjoys some site-seeing, touring and relaxation either before or after the build.
She said Habitat always incorporates a cultural experience into the trip, so they had a traditional Hawaiian luau. As extras, Madden and some of the other volunteers took a submarine tour and went swimming with the manta rays.
Her plan going forward was to continue Habitat trips annually.
“I would like to be able to do one a year,” she said.
She met a traveling pal in Hawaii.
“The gal that I roomed with while I was in Hawaii, we decided that we were going to go to Portugal in 2019,” she said of her friend, from California. “And that was a five-day build for an older woman who lives with her son, who is handicapped.”
They went to Portugal at the end of April into early May 2019.
She said on builds like that, different crews come to complete different parts of the project from week to week until it is done.
“They started with a home, the roof was caved in, you wouldn’t believe what it looked like,” Madden said. “And you wouldn’t have believed where she lived before that, which was even worse.”
The build was just outside Braga, Portugal.
Madden was able to stay in a “gorgeous old home” that Habitat for Humanity owns.
Then in October of 2019, she traveled to Malawi, Africa with some of the people who went on the Hawaii build.
“I wasn’t going to pass it up,” she said.
“In Malawi, we built a brick home for a woman named Grace who had five children, ranging ages 12 down to 2. And her husband had died a couple years ago. And the house that she was living in was brick, but the roof was falling in — they had, like, pieces of plastic covering holes in the roof.”
She said the native people make their own mud bricks and fire them in ovens.
“And in order to do the firing of the brick, they have to cut down the trees and burn the trees, which is not good,” Madden explained. “So Habitat is building these brick homes with bricks made from cement and materials like that so that the people stop cutting down the trees.”
She said the home was very small, but it was much better than what the family had before.
“Instead of having a dirt floor like their previous home, it had concrete floor and a tin roof,” she said.
The home had two small bedrooms and one main room.
“So we spent seven days doing that build, along with a crew of men,” she said. “Her whole family came and helped as well,” she said of Grace.
Madden said visiting Malawi was a fascinating cultural experience.
“It was very odd to be the only white people among the black people,” she added. “And of course, they didn’t speak English..”
She added that chickens and goats roamed everywhere.
“It would get dark at night, and there was no light,” she said. “There was just nothing. It was so weird.”
The last day the group of 12 was there, they chipped in $20 each to buy rice, beans, chickens, goats and more for the women of the village to cook a celebratory meal for the entire village.
“At the end of the build, we always have a ceremony,” she said, to dedicate the home.
African dancers performed at the ceremony.
“There was this man who was dressed in natural fibers … and they called him the ‘Huli Wonka,’” Madden said.
She said the villagers were so happy and welcoming, and the whole experience was unforgettable.
“It’s always a good feeling to be able to help,” she said.