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Building Habitat for Humanity house in El Salvador inspires Alan Harbine

Working side-by-side building relationships and friendships while building homes with Salvadoran families and volunteers from a local Lutheran church last May has reaffirmed Alan Harbine’s view of life.

Alan Harbine
Alan Harbine

“There was satisfaction in helping families build one of the most basic human needs, a roof over their heads,” Alan said.

“The people I met don’t have much, but they have such great joy and a fulfilled life.  We have so much and we are not happy,” he said, raising the question:  “What is wrong with this picture?

“My experiences in El Salvador as well as in Mexico, have made me appreciate what I have been blessed with and changed how I see the world,” Alan said.  “I have a new sense of thankfulness.”

The Thrivent Financial representative, who provides insurance and investment assistance to Lutherans in Spokane, traveled to El Salvador last spring with more than 30 Thrivent representatives across the nation as part of a Habitat for Humanity initiative to build homes in a new community, Villa Esperanza, or Village of Hope.

Thrivent also provides contributions and volunteerism to meet unmet needs in communities.

He was selected for the El Salvadoran project to represent colleagues from the Northern Rockies Region because of his commitment to volunteering.

In El Salvador, Alan and the Thrivent team helped construct homes in a neighborhood that will offer families in need access to land, a house, basic services and social infrastructure such as green areas and a community center.

For 10 days, the team worked with local Habitat staff to carry bricks, mix cement and move dirt to help families have a safe, affordable new home.

“I never made mortar from scratch before,” he said. “I have no building skills so this was out of character for me, but we were taught what we needed to do.”

Alan said they had two interpreters who grew up in United States and Canada after their families fled violence in El Salvador in the 1980s.

“Both had a passion to return to El Salvador and help,” Alan said. “We met many people who had come back to El Salvador to help rebuild their country.”

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans committed $1.3 million to Habitat for Humanity El Salvador and encouraged hundreds of Thrivent members to volunteer in 2010 to help make the new community a reality.

By last spring, 37 of the planned 75 homes were constructed.

The program, Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity, is a multi-year, multi-million dollar partnership with Habitat for Humanity International.  More than 2,000 homes have been built to date in the U.S. and around the world through the Thrivent/Habitat collaboration.

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes people dedicated to eliminating poverty housing.  Since it was founded in 1976, the program has built, rehabilitated, repaired or improved more than 350,000 houses worldwide, providing shelter for more than 1.75 million people.

Alan Harbine

Alan Harbine building for Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador

Alan said that as the homes were built, relationships with local residents grew.  Volunteers from a church and Habitat El Salvador partner families worked with the team.

As in the United States, Salvadoran families have to apply for and purchase their Habitat homes, and help with the construction before assuming residency.

He said one-third of Salvadorans live in substandard housing and have little compared to people living in the United States.

“Despite having few worldly possessions, the Salvadorans I met displayed a wealth of spirit, love and generosity,” Alan said.

The team sometimes put down their work gloves to explore the area, attend a Lutheran church service, take a boat ride, tour Mayan ruins, learn to prepare Salvadoran food and relax at a beach.

“A high point was playing soccer with workers and neighborhood young men,” he said. “It was fun because soccer is a universal game and language barriers were not an issue.”

One challenge was being evacuated from the work site in Santa Ana to San Salvador for two days when tropical storm Agatha swept across El Salvador.

In Spokane, Alan is sharing his experiences to raise awareness of the impact of poverty housing.  He encourages others to be involved in similar volunteer service.

There were few jobs for teachers in Washington when he graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 1981, so he found a job as a youth minister in Puyallup, Wash., in 1978 and in Grass Valley, Calif., from 1981 to 1986, before serving as youth minister at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Spokane from 1987 to 1996.

“Being a youth minister was fulfilling,” said Alan, who led several groups—with 22 to 50 youth—at St. Luke’s on youth missions to Tijuana, Mexico. He feels those trips changed the teens’ views of the world and what is important in life.

Alan said it’s one thing to tell youth that two thirds of the world live in poverty, but another for them to experience it first hand.

He plans to return to El Salvador as leader of a team of Habitat volunteers, including his wife, Kelli, their two adult daughters and 17-year-old son.

For information, call 924-8777 Ext 2 or email alan.harbine@thrivent.com.