Bike Adventure leader: Global Builders trip to Haiti further enhances perspective

Bike Adventure leader: Global Builders trip to Haiti further enhances perspective

Connor Ciment, Fuller Center Bike Adventure trip leader, has had a roller-coaster of a last two years. In fact, little in his life has remained the same, other than a love for his bicycle.

After graduating college in May of 2015, Ciment joined the Fuller Center Bike Adventure. “I loved riding my bike, and I was looking for a way to do it across the country,” he said. “I took a leap of faith, and jumped on the ride right out of college.”

Once on the ride, Ciment learned the trip leader position would be open. Already having fallen in love with the mission, Ciment “got really attached to what The Fuller Center does, especially how it does it.” Shortly thereafter, he committed to a year of service with the Fuller Center.

As a graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in mechanical engineering, the physical act of building houses was attractive to Ciment. Reflecting on past builds he has worked on in America, he fondly remembers “where the whole group worked together as one body on one single project, especially alongside the homeowners.”

It didn’t take long, however, for Ciment to develop an interest in participating in a Global Builders trip internationally. Appropriately enough, it was a fellow cyclist that initiated his dream becoming a reality.

“Mike Oliphant, who rode the Natchez Trace with me in 2016, reached out to ask if I wanted to co-lead a Global Builders trip with him. I jumped at the chance.” After working out the details, the duo traveled to Pigñon, Haiti, last month

With the trip in the rear-view mirror, Ciment is even more deeply invested in The Fuller Center than he was before.

Ciment is quick to address the profound effect of cultural barriers on the experience: “Building in the US, it’s like having home-field advantage; you speak the language, you understand the culture. In Haiti, I didn’t speak the language, and I wasn’t necessarily aware of the full context of culture around me.”

Through the week, however, Ciment was impressed by the connections he and the team were able to form despite the barriers between them. “Through working side-by-side with somebody, you start to get to know them regardless of language and regardless of that cultural barrier. By the third day, there’s a certain silent ballet going on, you know each other well enough to work seamlessly without ever having spoken a sentence.”

Ciment reflects on the moment he began to integrate into the community around him. “Suez, a Haitian mason, was laying blocks, and he called for me to pick up a block for him. Instead of placing it for me, he let me place it in the mortar myself. It was kind of an extra step towards inviting me into a bigger portion of the building process, which was a really cool level of comfort that we reached together. Again, we still hadn’t spoken.”

“Through working side-by-side with somebody, you start to get to know them regardless of language and regardless of that cultural barrier.” — Connor Ciment

When asked if his week in Haiti affected how he saw the Fuller Center as a whole, Ciment didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely. You witness the dramatic impact you can have on a family’s life. It really brings me a lot of gratitude that I can be a part of such an organization.

“It also brings new meaning to the Bike Adventure, which is raising a lot of money. With this experience I can see infinitely more tangibly how impactful the fundraising is for folks in need, all over the world.”

Ciment left Haiti deeply impressed by the strong local Fuller Center leadership. “Gerald is doing an amazing job, and I am extremely proud to be working alongside him as his efforts go far beyond housing, most directly including education. The school that he is the principal for is churning out young leaders who will be the generation that continues to lift up Pigñon and lift up Haiti and bring it to be the healthy and prosperous country that it can be.”

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Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Volunteer writes of ‘gestaltism’ and ‘unending gratitude’ after Nicaragua trip

Roughly two weeks ago, 12 Americans, a Canadian, and a Brit arrived in a new country.  They represented different religions, world views, and occupations.  With ages spanning a range of 60 years, they would converge on a little-known village in Nicaragua called Las Peñitas.  Just over a week later, both the village and the 14 who were once strangers were changed in one way or another forever.

By Scott Brand

By Scott Brand

They say a true understanding of history requires time and context.  Meaning, it is nearly impossible to see or comprehend the impact of a change until there is enough distance from it to see it with a broader perspective.  This is our story from the perspective of one of those 14.

We all arrived with the best of intentions — aware of our differences, and wanting to ensure inclusion was evident.  At first it was overt, asking each for input and all willing to make concessions to show support for the new strangers in our lives.  We didn’t know that by the end, there would be no effort required.  That, in a way, 14 would become an extended family, with a common understanding and respect for the other.  Yet, when that first day of work began, it would have been difficult to predict that outcome with any confidence.

My journey began at the school, where the site was dirt, large boulders, and debris.  Our first task would be to remove the several hundred pound boulders.  We would try different techniques.  Dig with shovels, use pry bars, and get in each others way quite a bit.  About thirty minutes later, after several failures, we achieved our first goal and celebrated with high fives.  Though the celebration was short-lived as shovels and pick axes were distributed to build a trench that would be two feet wide, a foot and half deep, and roughly 35 linear feet.  No small task when considering the make up of the ground.  The minority of which was actual dirt, occupied primarily by dense clay and rock.  This would make up the majority of the remainder of our day.  Our first day.  The get to know each other day.  The light day.  It would end an hour and half later than expected, with just 20 minutes of daylight remaining and would finish with a fully poured concrete foundation.  While all of this was happening, the remainder of our team was laying block, mixing concrete and sifting in 90 degree heat to build a home roughly 100 yards away.  A humble description of the work our group wouldn’t come to understand until the following day.  

Each of the following days would have team members rotating to different sites, swapping for fresh legs and giving others an opportunity to share a moment in the shade.  Stories would be exchanged, sometimes one to one, others in small groups.  With each story, each collaborative task bringing us just a little closer.  In between the work, we would share meals with our extended Nicaraguan family who accepted us into their home.  We would learn about the Nicaraguan revolution.  Not as a historical event, but as personal accounts.  A boy pulled from school at 14 to fight against those he now calls friends.  A boy who would become a man through incredible adversity, tumble into despair only to emerge as a man who provides for his community every day with a smile and a Coke.  This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

This was no longer some distant country on a map.  It was the home of Danilo, Alberto, Ricardo, Lorraina, Carlos, Santos, Benito, Veronique, Maria, Perla and so many more.  All who grow up in a different world than the 14 who arrived, but all shared the same common goal: Leave the world a little better than they found it.

Which brings me to the key ingredient of any great team, a great leader.  There is a term that has begun to pick up popularity in the corporate world, and is quickly becoming the most recruited skill, but the most difficult to obtain.  The difficulty is that it is not only rare, but it cannot be seen on a resume.  That term is Servant Leadership.  A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.  She leads with influence, and reserves her authority only for safety or moments of crisis.  She spends this authority wisely knowing that no one would challenge it when used so sparingly.  Instead, she removes obstacles, gives a heavy bucket a little extra lift, and casually breaks up a task with conversation when a member needs a break but won’t ask for it.  She has the unique ability to conduct the orchestra while playing percussion, setting the tempo, and allowing the orchestra to find the crescendo.  With each eloquent piece of music forming organically, and changing shape as it develops.  The actual outcome is undefined, unknown, and left to the symbiotic forces of the team.  And what few realize as they are developing the outcome, is that it can be terrifying at times for the leader.  The ambiguity, external forces, and knowing while the glory of success is shared by all, the risk of failure sits on the shoulders of one.  It is both courageous and selfless.  This team experienced the incredible good fortune of having that leader, and it will shape my own leadership for years to come.

A servant leader is one who serves the team first.  Not the boss, and not even the customer.  It is a working leader with no task being beneath him or her.

Back to 14 Nicas and one more term that received some attention this week.  Gestaltism, which means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  As I look back over the week, my belief in this phenomena is reinforced more than ever before.  Hundreds of buckets of gravel, sand, concrete and mortar were hoisted.  Blocks moved, staged, and placed in just the right place.  Scaffolding built, lumber transferred, and mortar filled.  Every single one of these tasks alone were essential.  Down to the last block, bucket and trowel.  But in the end, it was a home and a school annex.  In time, no one will focus on any of the parts.  They will see a family in a home, and children learning and enjoying a meal in school.  And through all of that, there was a third thing built.  It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched, but it is as real as any structure.  It is the 14 Nicas and the relationship we have developed.  The memories made, the lessons we’ve learned, the stories we shared.  There were tears, sweat, some blood, and so much laughter my greatest injury is probably in my abs.  

You each have my unending gratitude.  Each and every one of you has changed my perspective in some way or another, and together you have made a meaningful impact on my life.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

(Dedicated to Liz Bellantoni, a true servant leader, and to The Fuller Center for the great work they do around the world.)

Scott Brand is Senior Vice President in charge of North American Operations for Nielsen, an S&P 500 company.

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Global Builders program

Regular service-trip participant astounded by time spent with The Fuller Center of Armenia

Regular service-trip participant astounded by time spent with The Fuller Center of Armenia

When Carey and Rick White, a father-son duo from Texas, embarked on their recent trip to Armenia, they did not expect anything out of the ordinary from their regular service trips. Accompanied by friend Stewart Essey, the trio travelled full of excitement and wonder of visiting the world’s first Christian nation.

Carey, having travelled to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Sri Lanka and Ghana, was astounded by his experience with The Fuller Center in Armenia. “The hospitality was unmatched,” he said. “No family has ever treated us with that much soul.”

After the inspiring week, Carey plans to return to Armenia in 2017. 

Read the full story in
the frederick news-post

Groton student Sam Girian reflects on ‘real world’ experience at Legacy Build in Armenia

Groton student Sam Girian reflects on ‘real world’ experience at Legacy Build in Armenia

For 17-year-old Sam Girian of Manchester, Mass., the 2016 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Vanadzor, Armenia, wasn’t just another service trip. It was an opportunity to learn about himself and the world around him.

The high school junior isn’t short on life experience: He lives away from his family at a rigorous college preparatory boarding school — Groton in Groton, Mass., which has produced such notable alumni as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There, he plays on the school’s football team and volunteers at a local food pantry. Still, he couldn’t shake the desire to “get out of the New England bubble.”

sam-2Eager to experience his Armenian heritage firsthand, Sam did a simple Internet search and found himself on the Fuller Center for Housing website. “I liked the authenticity of the organization. It’s an organization that is close to its roots and has a clear purpose for what it wants to achieve,” Sam said of his first exposure to the Fuller Center. Soon, both he and his mother were registered for the weeklong build.

“Service trips are a way of seeing the real world.” — Sam Girian, 17, Fuller Center volunteer

The build focused on a 12-family apartment building, in which no family knew which apartment would ultimately be theirs. Families worked diligently all week to better their building as a whole, participating in a drawing at the end of the week that assigned their home.

“It was special to see all the families celebrating their new homes with food and drinks and people from around the world,” Sam said of his favorite part of the build. “The building was packed with extended family, volunteers, government officials, a priest, and even a national news channel crew.”

While Sam did mention construction skills as something learned, he is most thankful for the real-world lessons the build taught him. “I learned about people. I learned about how other people live and other people’s culture.” The high school junior had never been to Armenia and left feeling a deeper sense of understanding of his own heritage, especially after visiting the Genocide Museum in Yerevan.

“On the trip my mom and I realized that service trips are a way of seeing the real world. People usually travel abroad for vacation and go to the best-looking places on Earth. The service trip with The Fuller Center took me to a real part of Armenia that regular tourists would probably never witness.”

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RELATED VIDEO: Fuller Center President David Snell and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola reflect on the 2016 Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Armenia:

Suburban Cleveland newlyweds spend honeymoon building home for family in Thailand

Suburban Cleveland newlyweds spend honeymoon building home for family in Thailand

Mike and Annamarie Campisi tied the knot on July 16 and then set off on an unusual honeymoon.

They didn’t fly to Hawaii, sail off to Jamaica or drive up to some mountain cabin hideaway. Instead, they went to Thailand … to work.

The Campisis spent a week with several other service-minded volunteers on a Fuller Center for Housing Global Builders mission to build a simple, decent home for a family in the small community of Lampang in northern Thailand.

“My first thought was, oh boy, I don’t know about that,” said Annamarie, noting that while she has always been service-minded, she had never traveled internationally. Mike, however, talked her into it.

“I’ve gone on three Global Builders trips — the first was Armenia in 2012 — and I’ve loved every single one of them,” he said. “I’ve always had such a good experience, a different experience, and Annamarie had never had the opportunity to do one.”

As the couple planned their wedding, they continued to consider their options for a Global Builders honeymoon. They talked with Fuller Center Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola, who attended the same high school as Mike and whose older brother Brett was Mike’s friend. Iafigliola told them there was a group headed for Thailand, one of The Fuller Center’s newest Global Builders destinations, just two days after their wedding. The more they learned about the trip, the more determined they became to have just such an alternative honeymoon.

“I really wanted to go to Italy, but I think that we made the best decision of our life,” Annamarie said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I started to learn about what The Fuller Center does on these mission trips, it became more clear to me that this was definitely what Mike and I had to do because we both love to do volunteer work, we both love to do things in the community and give back. I couldn’t see another way of doing it than doing this and molding our lives together as husband and wife commitment to community service and helping others. It was good to put somebody else first. I had a blast.”

Annamarie is thankful that her first international travel experience came through The Fuller Center’s Global Builders program, which not only provides families with eager volunteers to help them build their homes but also offers those volunteers an opportunity to experience the world and authentic cultures off the beaten tourist path.

“I learned what it was like to travel overseas, how they build, the types of food and language and traditions and culture,” she said. “That gives you perspective. You can’t get that perspective by just walking out your front door and walking about the block.”

“The trip leaders made it more than a mission trip — it was a life experience that I want to do over and over again. … I know that my hard work and sweat went into that house, and a part of me will always be with Thailand and that family.” — Annamarie Campisi

Is it an experience every newlywed couple should try?

“If you’re looking for just sitting at a beach and you don’t want to do anything, that might not be the best decision,” Mike said. “But anybody that is willing to work and wants to experience a whole other culture and give back … it’s really a great experience that you hope to get again and again.”

While it might not be the perfect honeymoon for every couple, Annamarie insists it was perfect for her and her new husband.

“It was the best thing Mike and I could have done because we grew closer together as a couple because we did something together that’s going to make a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “The trip leaders (Carla Foster and Surayyah Hasan) made it more than a mission trip — it was a life experience that I want to do over and over again. … I know that my hard work and sweat went into that house, and a part of me will always be with Thailand and that family.”

As they were leaving Thailand, they were making plans for future Global Builders experiences before they even boarded the flight home. They even asked Thailand site leader Boots Walker when they could bring their future children.

“It would be nice if we could get in one or two more trips before we actually start a family, but it also would be nice to actually bring them to a whole new culture of really appreciative people and just that whole experience that I’ve had multiple times and Annamarie has now had and want to experience again.”

 

Hear the complete phone interview with Mike and Annamarie Campisi below:

 

view a photo gallery from the trip

learn more about the
global builders program

Global Builders program on record pace for trips in 2016; 50th scheduled

Global Builders program on record pace for trips in 2016; 50th scheduled

In 2015, The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program reached new highs with a total of 49 trips taken, putting 610 volunteers to work with The Fuller Center’s international covenant partners. It’s only March of 2016, but the Global Builders program already is on pace to reach new milestones this year.

New trips that have been scheduled, combined with trips already taken this year, would bring the 2016 total to 50 trips. However, more trips are expected to be scheduled before the end of the year, likely pushing the record total even higher, according to Global Builders coordinator Allen Slabaugh.

“Fifty trips is a great milestone for the Global Builders program, and hopefully by the end of the year that number will be up to 60,” Slabaugh said. “Each year we continue to grow, which means more homes are getting built and more cross-cultural relationships are being formed. This is an important program that is making a big impact for the 11 countries to which we send teams and for the participants going on them.”

The Fuller Center’s current Global Builders destinations are:

Of the 43 trips currently on the schedule for the rest of the year, 18 of them still have openings for volunteers. Click here to see the list of trips.

RELATED LINK: Fuller Center Global Builders trips to Nicaragua rank No. 2 out of 5,860 volunteer abroad programs in Go Abroad survey.

learn more about global builders

 

Freshmen at Massachusetts high school to spend week building in Haiti

Freshmen at Massachusetts high school to spend week building in Haiti

Kat Williams and Christina Todd, language teachers at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Yarmouth Regional High School in Yarmouth, Mass., made sure they had an infusion of youthful energy on their Fuller Center Global Builders trip to Pignon, Haiti, next week. And they didn’t have to look far to find it.

Four freshmen from the school — Francesca Barbi, Kathryn Faust, Austin Anderson and Alexis DeNisi — are joining their service mission.

Williams said that having the youth along for the journey will be a learning experience not just for the teenagers but also for the adults.

Click here to read what the students had to say about the journey in this Wicked Local article.

Fuller Center trips to Nicaragua rank No. 2 out of 5,860 volunteer abroad programs

Fuller Center trips to Nicaragua rank No. 2 out of 5,860 volunteer abroad programs

Go Abroad, which helps people who want to volunteer internationally find the best options, has ranked The Fuller Center’s Global Builders program in Nicaragua No. 2 in its list of Top Volunteer Abroad Programs of 2015. That ranking is second out of 5,860 programs.

“I went on the very first trip to Las Peñitas in 2013 and fell in love with the tiny fishing village on the Pacific Coast,” Wendy Miller told Go Abroad. “The people are very friendly, the town is safe, and working shoulder to shoulder with Nicaraguans is a life-changing experience. I’ve now done six builds there and highly recommend it for heat-tolerant, hard-working, eager to help, and humble folks who want to make a difference in the world.”

“The people are very friendly, the town is safe, and working shoulder to shoulder with Nicaraguans is a life-changing experience. I’ve now done six builds there and highly recommend it.” — Wendy Miller

The ranking comes after a record-breaking year for The Fuller Center’s entire Global Builders program, which recorded 49 trips with 610 volunteers in 2015.

“We work really hard to not only grow the size of our program but also to do all that we can to help each trip be a great one,” said Ryan Iafigliola, The Fuller Center’s Director of International Field Operations. “This recognition is for the latter. Our hosts in Nicaragua — and the other places our Global Builders teams work — do such an amazing job, and it’s nice to see them get some recognition for it.

View the complete list of rankings from Go Abroad, including volunteer, certification, internships and study abroad programs and organizations.