In her day job, Sandra Livingstone teaches business administration to students at the College of the North Atlantic-Qatar.
In her free time, she packs her knapsack and travels to other locales to be of service to poor families.
“I come from a heritage of very generous people. My grandmother made quilts and sold them, and all the proceeds went to support missionaries in various countries,” says Livingstone.
During her Christmas vacation, instead of enjoying time with family and friends, she boarded a plane with a colleague who was leading an international Habitat for Humanity (HFH) build in Nepal.
And, after receiving some instructions at the HFH office in Itahari, she spent the next seven days in the capital city of Kathmandu building a home out of bamboo and mud.
“The experience was amazing,” says Livingstone, during a recent Internet interview.
“I got to try my hand at every part of the home building (process), except the actual cutting down of bamboo from the woods.
“I helped drag the bamboo out, saw off the large branches, carry the long bamboo poles down the road to the house, smooth off both sides of the bamboo using a special heavy blade, weave the pieces of bamboo together to form walls, hold up walls as they were being put in place to form the sides of the house, pat the mud mixture all over the walls to fill in the seams and finally smooth mud all over the floors to create a solid, smooth floor,” says Livingstone, who grew up in Cornwall.
As one of 10 Canadians and the only Prince Edward Islander involved in the project, she was buoyed by the enthusiasm of her fellow group members.
“We bonded quickly and worked as a team from the first day. We were all strangers in a Third World country with the same desire in our hearts: to help someone else who was less fortunate receive a home to live in.”
With a positive mindset they were able to face challenges as they came up.
“No one ever complained. Even though some people got sick or had cockroaches in their rooms or their only pair of pants got extremely muddy, everyone threw themselves into the building and did whatever had to be done,” says Livingstone who has also done volunteer projects in the Ukraine, Romania, South Africa, Venezuela, Mexico and Bangladesh.
Besides the team spirit, the other “high” was watching the recipients of the house working alongside of the team.
“Even when we were leaving for lunch at the end of the day, the lady would be sweeping the dirt lawn to get rid of all the bamboo shavings and pieces so her yard would be tidy,” she says.
Livingstone was a participant in the Global Village program, says the executive director of HFH P.E.I.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for individuals and groups to support Habitat for Humanity in communities throughout the world and get a better understanding of development issues,” says Susan Zambonin.
“It can be a life-changing experience for the participants who are able to truly understand the impact of a home. Global Village is also a great stepping-stone for participants to get involved with Habitat for Humanity in their local community,” she says.
Back in Qatar, Livingstone is hoping that her story will inspire others.
“Students seemed awed by the fact that Canadians would be willing to give up their Christmas holidays to go somewhere like Nepal to help poor families,”she says.
“I want to be a role model for my students and encourage them to get involved as much as they can. We are already talking about going back again. Hopefully we will be able to take a group of students to do another build in Nepal.”
AT A GLANCE
Up close and personal with Sandra Livingstone
Mentors: Her father, Nelson Livingstone; grandparents Lyle and Myrtle Livingstone.
Motivation: “Seeing the joy on the faces of the family who will live in the house is more rewarding than being paid to do the work. The time and money invested into this kind of project seem like nothing compared to the feeling of satisfaction at being able to do some little thing to make a difference.”
Lessons from the trip: “Expect the unexpected. (Remember) you aren’t at home. Don’t expect things to be the same and don’t compare,” she says.
Previous P.E.I. job: Teacher in legal secretary program at Holland College.
Favourite food: Chicken, chocolate.
Favourite book: Hinds’ Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard.