A group of international students studying at CSUDH literally helped build walls and figuratively built connections at a Habitat for Humanity build day recently in Watts. Not even the unseasonably warm weather could dampen the students’ enthusiasm for their charitable work, as they worked together to make a house a home for a family in need.
As Siba Kattan, a student from Saudi Arabia, put it, “I feel good about helping people who need it. I’ve never experienced something like that. It’s like doing yoga ten times! You feel so good on the inside after you help someone. (Everyone) should do it!”
The international group comprised Toro exchange students, as well as students in the American Language & Culture Program (ALCP) and the Study Abroad American (SAA) program, in which students spend one or two semesters at CSUDH before returning to their home countries. The students’ homes are literally all over the map—from Germany and Saudi Arabia to Singapore and Japan.
Habitat for Humanity requires only a small down payment from the low-income families that purchase their homes. Instead, partner families are often required to contribute “sweat equity,” the ownership interest created as they help build their own homes.
The Watts project is one of nine Habitat for Humanity houses currently under construction in the greater Los Angeles area. The international students were only there for one day, but accomplished quite a bit during their shift.
“Today our students have been painting, putting putty over nail holes, drawing stud lines, putting up window frames, putting in additional framing and posts, and adding pieces of wood between the studs,” said International Student Services’ Darlene Peceimer, who helped put the event together. Experienced construction workers helped guide the students’ work, she added, because most of them had never done anything like it before.
The students volunteered for a variety of reasons, but they all agreed that giving back to the community was important to them. As German SAA student Ana Maria Reske put it, “On the first hand, (I volunteered) to help the people, to do something good for the community. When you do something and you can see the result at the end, it’s great. The whole idea is really cool, to give people something that they really need.”
Fellow German Alexander Maier was excited about helping people, but also had some practical reasons for volunteering. “I wanted to see how people build their homes here, because it’s very different than in Germany. It’s very interesting and a nice experience to work with all the people here,” he said. “It’s fun to be outside and do something with my hands, and if you can help people at the same time, that makes it even better.”
“Maybe I can learn to use some tools!” Rose Abdul Rahman a student Singapore, added with a laugh.
Ultimately, though, it was the idea of doing something tangible for those in need that drew the students to the project. Tennille Shallow, of the UK, joined up for the day along with her roommates. “We all decided to do it together,” she said. “I think it’s a really good cause, because it’s going to help other people live. I’ve never been a part of anything like this before, but it’s a really good experience. You know you’re helping. Also, it’s fun!”
Melissa Maragnen, of Guadeloupe Island, said that when she was attending St. Monica High School, “I had heard of Habitat for Humanity, but because (I played) basketball I couldn’t do it. So this year when I saw it on the schedule I said, ‘Ah, I have to do it!’ I always wanted to see what it was about, and to use my hands to help somebody in greater need.”
For Maragnen, the best part of volunteering was “to be a part of helping someone in great need, putting my sweat and my work into it and knowing someone will enjoy it. They will get a roof over their head and be able to spend some quality time there and make memories.”
It seems that the students who pitched in created some lasting memories, as well.