Arts Explorers Summer Series: Building Latrines = Building Character | Work of Arts
Arts Explorers Summer Series: Building Latrines = Building Character | Work of Arts

Arts Explorers Summer Series: Building Latrines = Building Character

A summer series about travel that transforms lives

Arts people are Citizens of the World, many viewing travel as more than just a vacation. For the next few weeks, WOA blog will be sharing their guest blog posts about how their trips gave them a new perspective on life.  


Combining two of my favorite things – exploring new places and helping someone out – has created some powerful opportunities for me in the last few years. Researching potential trips for a milestone birthday led me to a Habitat for Humanity website with a plethora of options, but considering my very specific birthday timeline, I took the chance on a two-week trip to Hungary to help build someone a house. And my addiction to voluntourism was born.

Volunteering on home soil is worthy and rewarding. Volunteering in a foreign culture, for me, added a number of elements well worth the effort and expense. While the work is hard, the food sometimes unidentifiable and the bed rock solid, getting the inside view of an unknown (to me) environment made for a very worthwhile travel experience. Since Hungary, I’ve been to Louisiana, Jordan and most recently Cambodia, all with Habitat.  The connection that is created between the family and the team members may be short lived, but it has impact. The families will see a number of strangers come through at different times to help, and they are grateful for every one of them. I was lucky enough to participate in, and witness the completion of, the house in Jordan, along with the dedication ceremony for the family. The family was ecstatic. I’m not sure they knew any of our names, but the hugs were smothering just the same. In Louisiana, I heard a quote from a volunteer coordinator that still brings tears to my eyes: “There have been more Canadians down to help out after Katrina than any single U.S. state. We love Canadians!”  And the opportunity to play musical chairs with local children and adults alike in the middle of goodness-knows-where in Cambodia – and the fact that they knew how to play musical chairs! – blew my mind. I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard, since.

While the work is hard, the food sometimes unidentifiable and the bed rock solid, getting the inside view of an unknown environment made for a very worthwhile travel experience.

It is a very satisfying feeling, contributing to the tangible outcome of a house or a latrine. My usual day-to-day consists of a desk and an excessive amount of paperwork. Getting a chance to learn about hanging doors in Louisiana or Hungarian drywall practices definitely expands one’s horizons. Not sure when I may use those skills again, but one never knows!


Each trip was unique and fascinating, but there are two things I have taken away from each and appreciate more and more every day: patience and perspective. Patience, because traveling in logistically-challenged areas provides many opportunities to sit back and wait… wait for your transportation, wait for your building materials or perhaps wait for that monsoon to pass so you can get back to the build site. As for perspective – appreciation for indoor plumbing is a given, but to also appreciate the simplicity and joy that is so present in areas of the world that we (of the first world) have somehow determined have “nothing.”

To be honest, it doesn’t take a trip to Cambodia to build latrines to promote patience and perspective – anyone who deals with Groat Road closures can attest to that!  But it does allow me to step outside my box every once in a while and get a sense of the bigger picture. And to write about these experiences without mentioning the team comradery, frustration, delight and individual growth that were also present seems a bit misleading and incomplete, but take my word for it – they were all there in spades. It has been two years now since I’ve been out to see the world and I think it’s time to book another trip. Anyone?

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About Pamela Sewers

Pamela Sewers

Pamela Sewers currently works in the Faculty of Arts’ Office of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Community Service-Learning Program, soon to be over in the Department of Music to cover a maternity leave. Her goals in life include keeping things simple and working hard at whatever needs doing. Hobbies include crosswords (the easy ones) and the occasional university class, just for interest’s sake. She is currently contemplating ditching her Blackberry relationship and converting to an iPhone.