Lessons Learned in PEI

Personally, I do not think there are enough words in the English Dictionary or the Universe that can truly describe how amazing, humbling and rewarding my experience with Habitat for Humanity PEI was. From July 5-12 I had the chance to work alongside a diverse group of staff and students from Centennial College, whom I probably would have never met if I did not go on this GCELE. Within one week, these people who were complete strangers to me grew to become some of the most dedicated, hardworking, loving, compassionate and humorous people that I have come across in my life. Along with this phenomenal group I was able to work alongside some of the most wonderful Habitat Staff and volunteers, who taught me some very valuable lessons.

Prior to being on this build, I knew very little of the amazing work that Habitat does not only in PEI but across the world. You see I come from a family full of electricians and contractors that all had their share of habitat moments yet never fully explain why they have volunteered. Habitat strives to provide affordable housing for families across the planet in hopes that one day everyone will be able to own a place to call home. Within PEI, Habitat aims to build five houses a year for families that truly deserve them. In order to qualify for housing an individual or family is evaluated within three areas: 1) ability to repay a Habitat Mortgage 2) level of need and 3) willingness to partner. Also in order to qualify families must also have a minimum income of $23, 228, as well as provide numerous documents about financials and also provide 500 hours of “sweat equity” in which they will provide labour on their own homes and other builds, do media and other projects and 100 of these hours must be completed before the start of their own homes build.


Here is some of the really valuable lessons that I learned while on my GCELE:

  1. YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WILL BE TESTED:    For a whole week I was thrown into close living quarters with six other women who I had met only a handful of times prior to the trip. We lived in a dormitory style hostel which consisted of 4 sets of bunk-beds and very little walking space. We had shared shower and washroom facilities which means waiting for sometimes fifteen to thirty minutes for showers and the use of a toilet. Your patience will be tested but after a few days you get used to it. For those who are uncomfortable with using port-a-potty, that is all that is available on build sites, yes you will use one when you have no other choice. There is also the case of those who do snore or talk in their sleep, I suggest bringing ear plugs as they will drown out the sound of not only that but people coming and going from the room and moving about the hostel.


EVERYONE HAS A STORY: Two people/ families that really touched my heart while I was in PEI was that of the wonderful volunteer Tammy and the ever so gracious Sadat Family.

Tammy is a volunteer with Habitat who does all the painting and trim on the last 8 houses that have been built on the island. Tammy started out volunteering for Habitat when she was sentenced to 137 hours of Community Service for a DUI. After completing her required hours she just never left Habitat. She fell in love with what they do and knew that she wanted to do more. Despite her past people come to know that Tammy is this phenomenal women who light up a room with her smile and make anyone feel comfortable with just a laugh or a little story. As I spent only four hours with her I came to know that Tammy lives a tiny little trailer with her fisherman boyfriend. Money is tight and there are times when they can barely afford to feed themselves, yet Tammy gives back to her community each and every day. Tammy not only volunteers with Habitat but she also provides palliative care for those around her, provides a place of refuge for those who are homeless or have ran away from their own demons and also rents out rooms to university students. If there was a word to describe Tammy it would be: HERO.

The Sadat Family: is a family of seven that came to Canada as Refugees in 2007. We had a chance to meet them when they opened the doors of their restaurant to provide us dinner one night while in Charlottetown. Their restaurant Sadat’s Cuisine provides some of the best Afghani food I have ever had and also provides a little bit of comfort for those who are missing home. Mr. Sadat and his wonderful family were the recipients of the biggest house that Habitat PEI has ever built for a family on the island and provide a hearty and delicious dinner to Habitat Volunteers in gratitude. Mr. Sadat did not get into full detail of his story of hardships, trials, tribulations, horror and heartbreak about coming to Canada, but you can tell in one’s eyes that even though he and his family had a horrible time coming to Canada they are very grateful for what they have and are very willing to open their doors to everyone they meet. If you are interested in reading their story you can find it here: http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2015-01-17/article-4010493/Afghan-couple-recall-remarkable,-jarring-journey-to-Prince-Edward-Island/1) One word to describe this amazing family is: SURVIVORS


 TEAMWORK AND COMMUNICATION IS VITAL: During the week build I had the chance to do many different things however two of the main things that stuck out for me were facia and drywall. During these two very different areas of housing building you are required to work with a team and communicate at all times to complete these task. I know that I am not Hercules and would not have been able to put up drywall nor facia without the help of teammates and other strong arms. During both times each member had to communicate at all times to make sure that cuts were precise, pieces were nailed in, fit perfectly, and all task were completed. There was no time to sit around and be lazy, we had homes to build for two very deserving families and had a timeline to do so.


YOU ARE BOUND TO FIND OUT A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF: This statement I can speak a lot about, you see amongst my family and close friends I am known as a princess, who does not get dirty nor does a lot of heavy lifting. I prefer to spend time with people who I know and am very uncomfortable in situations where I do not know people. However I learned many things about myself: it is okay to get dirty, it will just wash off at the end of the day. I can lift more than I thought I could, hanging drywall is not easy but someone had to lift it and along with a great team all heavy lifting can be done. Living in close proximity of people I do not know no longer bothers me, you learn to adapt and accept the traits of those around you and you learn to move within a synchronized rhythm. Lastly, you can truly do anything that you put your mind to, I knew every little about building a house and math is not my strong point, but when you are determined to do something, miracles happen and your body, mind and soul just do what it has to.


Overall I had a truly amazing and wonderful experience in PEI and would not change a thing (except the mass amount of bugs). The team I had with me was amazing and I learned not only a lot about myself but about different cultures and countries around the world that I have never been. I am so grateful for being able to experience this with Centennial College and cannot wait to get on another GCELE and Habitat build here in Toronto. I also cannot wait to get back to PEI and fall in love with the province all over again.


Alicia Bell

Child and Youth Care


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