Habitat for Humanity gears up for first international trip


Audrey Cheng/The Daily Northwestern

Members of the NU chapter for Habitat for Humanity pose in New Orleans where they took their winter break trip. The group will take their first international trip in the spring to Peru.

Suyeon Son, Reporter

Northwestern’s Habitat for Humanity chapter launched applications last week for a trip to Peru, the group’s first-ever international service trip.

The group, a student volunteer organization that provides housing for low-income communities, collaborated with the International Student Association to arrange its trip to Chincha Alta, Peru, for this spring break. Valspar, a paint company partnering with NU in the construction of the new sports complex on North Campus, donated more than $10,000 to Habitat, which heavily subsidized costs for the trip.

Although the trip is not associated with Habitat for Humanity International, Emily Hittner, president of the NU Habitat chapter, said it is motivated by the worldwide activity of the parent organization.

“Habitat is an international organization, so a major part of the program is going abroad,” Hittner said. “This is something we’ve always wanted to do, but we’ve just never had the funds to.”

The Weinberg senior said the group is aiming for 15 NU students to join them in Peru in the spring. The online applications will close Friday.

Weinberg freshman Arisa Toyosaki, a member of ISA, said she was excited to see NU students help out other countries.

“I feel like Habitat mostly focuses on areas that are featured in the media or are perpetually poverty-stricken,” said Toyosaki, who participated in Habitat at her high school in Japan. “It’s great that they will get to help a local community abroad.”

The trip’s $800 fee is less than half the cost of airfare for many international students to get home during school breaks, said Lara Saldanha, ISA’s global engagement chair.

Saldanha, who lives in Singapore, estimated round-trip flights home cost at least $1,800. The Weinberg and Bienen sophomore said that because residence halls close during spring break, international students are often left stranded or must spend thousands to go home.

Weinberg freshman Carol Feng, a member of NU’s Habitat chapter, said she was excited for the group to be able to expand their reach. However, she said she will not go on the trip because the $800 fee is not within her budget.

“We’re all college students and we have different budgets,” she said, “but I think it’s important to remember that there are still people who have less than what we do. I’m excited for the students that will be going.”

The collaboration with ISA was key in organizing Habitat’s international trip, Hittner said.

“(Habitat for Humanity) is very good with the front end aspect of planning, like how to get students through the interview process,” she said, “but we had no idea how to even start with things like where we should stay, planning for flights, passports, stuff like that.”

Other student organizations that have hosted or sponsored international trips have faced similar obstacles. Alternative Student Breaks, a group that plans several service trips during breaks, has slated Puerto Rico as one of its destinations for this spring break. ASB co-director Fred Tye said each of the four or five times the group has gone abroad, students have had to fill out a hefty amount of paperwork.

“The main hurdle for us is filling out forms for (the Office of) Risk Management,” the SESP senior said. “We need to figure out all the tiny details that you might not think of: who’s going to meet us at the airport, what time they’re coming, what is our mode of transportation to and from the site, how we are spending our free time.”

Students also fill out liability contracts and waivers with NU that have the students assume all responsibility while traveling, he said. While that is standard, the process can still take days to complete.

“But it’s really all worth it,” Tye said. “Being immersed in a different culture, having the opportunity use a different language that they’re learning in school – international trips get the dialogue going about doing community service domestically and how that’s different from going abroad.”

Correction: A previous version of this article suggested the trip to Peru is associated with Habitat for Humanity International. The trip is a collaboration between the Northwestern Habitat chapter and the International Students Association and not being planned in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity International. The Daily regrets the error.