Building with Habitat for Humanity in Portugal

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Five Simpson Strong-Tie employees had the opportunity to participate in a week-long Habitat for Humanity build in the small town of Amarante, Portugal, in late April. The group was originally scheduled to work on a Habitat project in Nepal late last year as part of Habitat’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP), but following the signing of a new constitution and civil unrest in the country, the project was canceled.

The company decided to allocate the funds for the CWP to Habitat’s Global Village program, allowing these employees to help renovate and remodel the older home of a widowed mother (Doña Margarida Ribiero) and daughter (Sonia) living in the Portuguese countryside.

The group, along with five other volunteers from the U.S., ranging from 29 to 76 years in age, was the first to start work on the 30-plus-year-old home. Alan Hanson, one of the Simpson Strong-Tie participants, was asked to share his thoughts about the experience.

My journey to Portugal began with a one-week vacation in the country with my wife, Holli. We traveled from Lisbon to Sintra, and then to Porto, the capital of port wine. It was a wonderful way to get to know the country. We met a number of friendly, unreserved people throughout the area. Language wasn’t a real barrier, since many locals spoke English. We toured cities, beaches, castles, palaces and other points of interest.

Holli flew out Saturday morning, so fellow Simpson Strong-Tie employee Rick Reid and I explored Porto for the rest of the day. We took a tour of the city, tasted some port wine, and had great meals. We met the other employees from Simpson Strong-Tie (Desiree Aquino, Phil Taylor, and Doug Melcolm) that night and had a seafood dinner near the water.

Rick Reid (l) and Alan Hanson at the jobsite.

Rick Reid (l) and Alan Hanson at the jobsite.

On Sunday morning, we met the rest of the volunteers from the U.S. as well as Florbela, our Habitat for Humanity representative. We took the 45-minute trip to Amarante, the city where the build would take place and had the afternoon free to explore. We were all excited about getting started on the build!

On Monday morning, we were taken to a rural part of Amarante where we met Doña Margarida, the homeowner, and Rogerio, the Habitat for Humanity superintendent. The house was very old and in need of many renovations. It had been added onto several times and was not very functional. Our work would entail remodeling rooms (a bedroom would become a living room), creating a hallway where none existed, and creating more space throughout the home.

L to R: Phil Taylor, Doug Melcolm and Alan Hanson hard at work.

L to R: Phil Taylor, Doug Melcolm and Alan Hanson hard at work.

We hit the ground running, cutting two new doorways into the granite and block, leveling out the irregular floors, filling in doorways that could no longer be used, patching various holes and openings, digging a ditch for the waste lines, removing paint and concrete from the granite interiors, and making many other improvements to the home throughout the build week. As a thank you at the end of each day, Doña Margarida served  us homemade red and “green” wine (the vino verde is a lightly carbonated white wine — delicious) with smoked ham and sausage. Despite the language barrier (she didn’t speak English), we could see that she was very grateful for our hard work, and she many times worked alongside us.

Alan Hanson fills in a former doorway.

Alan Hanson fills in a former doorway.

On Thursday we had our R&R day. We traveled to Guimaraes, about 45 minutes away. We had the opportunity to tour the “birthplace of Portugal” castle and palace and learn a lot of early Portuguese history. Friday came very early and we were off to Doña Margarida’s house again. We tore out another wall, finished fixing a few more openings, patched various holes in walls and leveled another floor.

Our last day at Doña Margarida’s house was actually only half a day on Saturday. We laid block in the door we removed earlier, filled in the floor where we tore out the wall, and made finishing touches to the patching on the other doors we filled in, as well as the hole from the wood stove. We accomplished a TON of work in 4½ days! We were told that we had finished ahead of schedule and completed more projects than were expected. We all had lunch together, including the family. In true Simpson Strong-Tie fashion, we had gifts for the family and our superintendent. We gave Rogerio a Simpson Strong-Tie-branded knife and sweatshirt and Doña Margarida a comforter and a wooden bowl that Phil made. He is quite a craftsman and did a wonderful job on it! Tears were shed, and we loaded into the van for the last time in Amarante. I took a nap when we got in because I was exhausted!

Doug Melcolm (l) and Rick Reid mixing cement for floor leveling.

Doug Melcolm (l) and Rick Reid mixing cement for floor leveling.

On Sunday, we left Amarante, heading to Porto. We attended a port wine tasting and took in a tour of the city. April 25 is “Freedom Day” in Portugal and marks the Carnation Revolution, when the military dictatorship was overthrown in 1974 with very little bloodshed, so there were fireworks at midnight and we had an incredible view. What a great way to end our trip to Portugal!

P.S. The complete renovation of the house is expected to be done in July, and we all can’t wait to see the home finished.

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