Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nail It With Love

For my wife Ro and daughter Bex, Air New Zealand Fashion Week this year involved a fair amount of elbow grease. Here's Ro's story of how she swapped the heels for a hammer...

I recently had the opportunity to be involved with a very special project in Auckland called “Nail it with Love”. Spearheaded by renowned New Zealand Fashion Designer, Trelise Cooper, a group of us built a house as part of Habitat for Humanity New Zealand.

However, this was no ordinary building project – Trelise and her husband Jack, who has been a volunteer builder for some time, are huge supporters of Habitat for Humanity, and Trelise came up with the idea of building a house down in Auckland’s Viaduct outside the venue which was hosting Air New Zealand Fashion Week. Trelise enlisted the help of family and friends – all women – and for a period of 6 days, while Fashion Week was in progress, we built a house!!!! The format was simple – each day was divided into two sessions – the volunteers enlisted for a session, or more if they could manage, and were asked to get themselves sponsored in order to raise money during that week to continue building homes for more worthy families.

It was a humbling experience indeed – our family was more than worthy. Fredarh Salamo, a single mother and her three young children, have been living in a garage on her mother’s property in South Auckland for three years. Fredarh’s chances of getting into a proper house were slim. She had heard about Habitat for Humanity, which is an organization that builds homes for low-income families and part of the scheme involves the chosen family to volunteer labour and help build their own home. Fredarh had been a volunteer on one of these projects for her cousin and decided to apply herself. When she learned that her application had been successful she says that she could not hold back the emotion!!!

Visualise if you will, Air New Zealand Fashion Week – beautiful models, Fashion Designers, fashionistas, makeup artists, media and celebrities all converging on the Viaduct, and just across the water, some of the same women in old jeans/t-shirts, thick soled shoes – definitely no Christian Louboutins here – with their toolbelts and hard hats on getting stuck in!

My initial session took place on the first afternoon, Trelise and Fredarh were there to welcome us, as they were for each session (a remarkable feat for Trelise who was producing three Fashion Shows that week, the first two being the following day). Again, a humbling experience as we listened to Fredarh speak and thank us profusely through her tears. You could tell that it was a Women’s Build as we all had to grab the Kleenex before we started! We had been told to expect to be doing anything – from standing up walls, fixing cladding, exterior joinery, sealing, roofing, framing, to plumbing, electrical cabling, sanding and painting and using all manner of tools in the process. I was astonished upon arrival to note that since I had walked past the site 4 hours earlier, the floor had already been laid. Under the supervision of three gentleman builders and two lady builders from Habitat for Humanity, along with two Auckland Unitec students, Vicky and Kartika, we were given instructions, put in teams and just got on with it. By the time that afternoon’s session had finished we had the walls up and the ceilings on!

Each day I walked past and marveled at how quickly the house was going up – despite the weather being very typically spring-like with a lot of wind and rain, work continued and the Teams were having so much fun at the same time. Women from all walks of life and ages were there, including a large number of Fredarh’s family.

With Fashion Week and my involvement over on the Friday, I enlisted to do the full, final day on Saturday. Saturday morning’s weather was dreadful, cold and wet. It didn’t stop us though. I spent the morning with Vicky doing the architraves under the roof, on tip-toes I could just about reach to wield the hammer, the cold rain on my saturated gloves dripping up my sleeve and down inside my t-shirt. I loved it! It was so great to be doing something physical, for such a worthy cause and to be getting stuck in. Saturday afternoon saw the sunshine come out and I had the pleasure of being on the roof with Kartika and my trusty hammer – it was a pretty sensational 360 degree view from up there too - Auckland CBD, Sky Tower, Harbour Bridge and Rangitoto Island!!! Bex was on the ladder wielding a paintbrush!

By 5pm we had finished everything that had been scheduled, the kitchen was being fitted in as we began putting away the tools and the following morning the house was being uplifted to it’s new site in South Auckland. We had a very informal celebration on-site and listened as Fredarh, her Mum alongside her, eloquently described her life and her dreams and how much the week had meant to her. Her gorgeous children were there, so excited to be seeing their new home and to be choosing their bedrooms.

I found the whole experience truly inspirational – so much so, that I have enlisted for a further Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build – this time as part of the Jimmy and Rosalind Carter Work Project Mekong Build 2009. This is a week long project which will unite volunteers from around the world to build houses in the Mekong Region which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and the Sichuan Province in China.

I am going as part of the Thailand contingent of around 40 – 45 volunteers, again I am in the Women’s Build Team led by Trelise. There will be approximately 3,000 volunteers, including Jimmy and Rosalind Carter and we hope to build 82 houses in one week – celebrating the King of Thailand’s 82nd birthday.

Fredarh and her family stand in front of the completed house with Trelise Cooper. Image source: Habitat for Humanity