Melody Loria

Between May 25 and June 4, 2008, I had the wonderful opportunity of being a part of the Vanier College, Arch Tech, Habitat for Humanity team. This unforgettable adventure began with a group of thirteen Architectural Technology students, including myself, who forsaw this experience with a determined mind, a passion for discovery, an attitude of adventure and a heart for service. We had a detailed itinerary filled with cultural and architectural activities and tours. However, first and foremost, the main activity and the core purpose of this trip to New Mexico was to assist Habitat for Humanity in the construction of a house for an underpriviledged single mother and her severely handicapped daughter.

Our mission was located in Taos, New Mexico, in the southwestern part of the United States, between Texas and Arizona. Although I have often traveled to different parts of the globe, it was the first time I was immersed in the surprisingly unusual setting of the great southwest. Surrounded by desert and tumbleweed, we began our adventure in a tour bus that brought us from Albuquerque Airport (the largest city of New Mexico) to Taos, only a couple of hours away. Once we arrived in Taos the thirteen students stayed in the St-James Episcopal Church. The accompanying adults and teachers headed for a nearby inn.

The independence we experienced living in the church not only tested the individual capabilities of each and every one of us, but solidified our group. This element of group solidarity became, for me, the exclusive reason to never forget this experience in New Mexico.

We spent seven days and six nights in Taos, five days of which we worked on the Habitat for Humanity site less than a mile away from the church where we were staying. After the second day in Taos the group had established a kind of routine. After a night’s rest on the church floor, we all woke up at around 7 am to be headed for the site for 8 o’clock. During this hour, we utilized the church’s facilities, the kitchen and the shower-less bathrooms (the showers were to be found at the city’s Recreational Center approximately 10 minutes away and available for a $1 fee.) After getting ready and eating an adequate breakfast, we all walked as a group towards the site, 15 minutes away.

The work on-site was extremely hands-on; more than I had imagined. I, personally, spent most of my time working on the roof, setting the waterproofing sheets, the styrofoam insulation, and the tar paper coat in preparation for the final fused membrane that would conclude the roofing of the house. This experience was extremely enriching as I got to see first-hand all the elements that I had studied previously in class. I really enjoyed the week-long experience of working with HFH and playing a useful part in the advancement of the construction.

Coming home to the church after a days work was a new adventure in itself. Some chose to take a shower at the Recreation Center, others prepared for supper. It was so amazing to see how a group of thirteen students could work so well together to meet each others’ needs.

Meeting the future home owner was also quite an experience, as she cooked for us one night, as the Habitat for Humanity tradition calls for. She expressed how much our help touched her personally, and this alone was such a rewarding experience for me. I learned so much during this week that sometimes seemed too long but eventually seemed too short. I learned about team work and humanitarian service. I learned that there are indeed people all over the world who need help, socially, financially and physically, and that there are means to help them. I learned that there are ways for me to do my part in this world, and consequently, I believe that this experience has enabled me to forever keep my career options open to humanitarian work within my country, as well as internationally.

Eventually, the week in the St-James church came to a sad end as we left Taos for a new destination, New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe. The next few days, from May 31st until the final departure to Montreal on June 4th, we spent touring the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We visited Bandelier National Park, Sandia Peak, Taos Pueblo, museums (Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, Natural History Museum, Museum of Indian Art and Culture, etc.), professional Architecture firms (Archeo Architects, etc.), art galleries (O’Keeffe Art Gallery, etc.) and the Albuquerque Zoo, Aquarium and Botanical Garden. This whole new and different part of the trip was highly enriching culturally. I learned a lot of interesting things about Native traditions and their way of life and experienced the modern cities of the American southwest.

I sincerely hope that the Architectural Technology department of Vanier College will continue having trips such as this. Sadly, eleven days now seems so short. This experience has definitely changed my life forever and, in particular, my view and vision of humanitarian service. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the group dynamics for the duration of the trip. The feeling of solidarity and unity was felt by all throughout the adventure and is a feeling I will never forget. I believe that it is urgent to begin a Habitat for Humanity chapter at my school and that this will allow for easier access to service worldwide. I keep on hoping that I will, once again, have the chance and blessed opportunity to live such an adventure again and thank the Quebec government for helping us make this trip a reality.