Habitat build in Trinidad an eye-opener

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The County Central group in front of the home they were helping build.

To say Caitlin Mattatall was impressed with County Central High School’s first adventure in Trinidad would be an understatement.

“It was definitely the best trip ever,” said the Palliser Regional Schools teacher, upon the students’ return to Vulcan from a Habitat for Humanity build on the tropical island.

Not only did that non-profit organization provide a lifetime of memories for the students, Mattatall was glad to see how her students came together as a team and grew as individuals. And most unexpectedly, she was thrilled at the amount of actual learning that went on.

“As their high school biology teacher, the amount of biology we talked about on the build site was ridiculous,” she said, with a chuckle. “Even as soon as we got up on the plane, it was like ‘why are my ears popping?’ and I was like, ‘well. . .’ ”

Things started a little rocky ¬– with delay causing a dash through the airport to make their connection – but after that it was all smooth sailing. Mattatall said the experience exceeded her expectations as far as the impact it had on her students.

The fact they got to meet and work alongside the recipient of the Habitat for Humanity build, a single mother and her young daughter, allowed them to see first-hand the impact they could have on someone else’s life.

The adventure was also an opportunity for the teens to experience a different culture and lifestyle. It was an eye-opening experience, especially for those who had never travelled outside of Canada before.

“We learned that one in five people in Trinidad are living in poverty. Learning this has made me more grateful for things that I have here,” said student Tayler Hurn.

Hurn is more likely to donate and volunteer more often as a result, and Mattatall said the experience could spark some to consider a career in the humanitarian field.

One of the more memorable moments for the educator occurred when the students were lifting a section of roofing atop the Habitat home. Half of the students were on one side of the house lifting it in the air and the others were on the opposite side pulling on a rope to put it into place.

“Hearing them, just cheering each other on and saying ‘yeah this is awesome. . .’  ” said Mattatall of that sense of accomplishment on the students’ part. “There was a lady across the street, and as soon as they got that first bit of roof up, she was clapping and the kids were clapping and there was this big cheer.”

Despite her level of satisfaction with the trip, she said it’s more likely to be a once every third year event given the level of fundraising necessary to cover their costs. Mattatall doesn’t think they’ll have any problems recruiting more students for that next trip in light of all the photos and messages her young travellers shared with classmates back home.

Student Jesse Lukow, who said the “interesting and funny characters” they met in Trinidad will stick in his memory, would definitely recommend the experience to others.

“I would tell them that it is a worthwhile experience because you get to learn much more about another culture and see how other people live in this world,” he said.