“We’re only there for a week, but the stories stick with you.”
Aditi Bisen has gone for enough build trips to know that the physical house is not the only legacy that will stay with you. Sometimes all it takes is that one family you meet or one story shared with you to forever change the shape your life.
“It’s always good to have these experiences in your back pocket when you go through hardships. It just enriches you as a person,” she said.
For Aditi, that story was about the archaic concept of forced and bonded agricultural labourers, shared from personal experience by a Nepalese family she met on her most recent build trip.
“What we found out in Nepal is that they had debt-bonded labourers. Somebody had taken a loan from a landowner...and the interest was so high that the entire family had to work for these landowners for four or five generations just to pay off the debt,” she shared in disbelief.
Aditi went to Western Nepal in May earlier this year to lead a team of volunteers as part of Habitat Singapore’s Global Village programme. It was during her home-building trip that she had the privilege of meeting and working with a community of liberated bonded labourers.
“That was very eye-opening because you don’t expect that kind of thing to happen in the 2000s,” she says thoughtfully, before sharing that debt bondage was finally banned by the local government in the last two decades.
Before her trip to Nepal, Aditi’s first exposure to Habitat for Humanity was through her company Bank of America Merrill Lynch where she’s been working for four years. “We went to Batam for a company build and I really enjoyed that experience; but, that was a one-day thing,” she says.
Motivated by her desire to engage in longer projects, Aditi went to Habitat Singapore’s website and discovered options that were more suited to her needs. “I went online and found other trips which were longer, so I signed up for Vietnam in 2018 and Nepal in 2019,” she reminisces fondly.
Her passion for building homes for the underprivileged fitted her academic background like a glove. “I studied civil engineering at the National University of Singapore, so I’ve had an innate interest in building for a while.
When we started doing building projects in college, we did everything: sourcing the project and finalising the plans of what we’re going to build. I really enjoyed doing all of those activities. There was a year where we built a school and another year where we built a chicken farm,” she enthused.
Aditi wasn’t just involved in these college-based projects; she also led them. She carried out her duties from an operations perspective and planned how her team would work around the construction site. All these experiences had proven valuable when she led her own Habitat Singapore team in Nepal.
“I’ve done it in college before so I had the urge to gather people and take them on build trips. To me, it’s kind of exciting to rally people to do something. As a team leader, you also get to decide the schedule, so that made it easier to plan my life,” she shared earnestly.
In addition to the logistical support from the Habitat Singapore office, what made her stint as a team leader enjoyable is the flexibility of the volunteers under her charge.
“Majority of the people I’ve seen in the Habitat teams don’t come with expectations; that’s an excellent way to go about it. One of the things I’ve reinforced with the teams is that things are going to change last minute, so flexibility is always required,” she affirms.
But after everything that’s been said and done, what really matters to Aditi at the end of the day is personal development and a genuine desire to serve.
Thinking about all the homeowners whom she’s met and the precious stories that they’ve shared, she said: “Everybody should try joining a Habitat trip at least once for your own personal growth. When you go into a foreign community and work in a rural space, you learn to appreciate life better.
If you’re inspired and want to be involved in our build team going to Myanmar in December, you too can help transform lives and sign up for our open team here: www.habitat.org.sg/open-teams