Jun 9, 2017 Düsseldorf / Germany
How a team builds a home together
Around 20 motivated Henkel employees temporarily left their office jobs and joined forces to help those in need as part of a “building mission”: Together, they flew to Romania for a week to literally build new homes for local families. The initiative was enabled by the cooperation between Henkel and the non-profit organization “Habitat for Humanity”, which is now in its fourth year.
The minivan sways slightly from side to side as it drives down a narrow field path that winds through the back country of the Romanian Cumpăna borough. Clouds of fine dust rise up at the wheels’ passing on the uneven roadbed. Vast fields stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction, with the odd barn or farm building dotted across the landscape. This country lane is the last leg of the 20-person group’s journey from their hotel in the port city of Constanța to their final destination. All of them are Henkel employees who left Düsseldorf the previous day to embark on a special mission.
Approximately 1,800 kilometers southeast as the crow flies, and literally worlds away from their daily work environment, the trip participants’ destination rolls into view: a construction site with the skeleton of a house in its middle. “This is going to be a home for four families,” says Henkel employee Tobias Merten from the Digital Communications department, describing the project that he and his colleagues are going to work on together for the next five days. “The families should be able to move in by next year.”
To make that happen, everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets straight to work. There is a lot to do: The walls need to be insulated and primed, and the ceilings need additional stabilizing layers before they can be painted. Additionally, a whole lot of wood needs to be cut – that is a job for the colleagues who already know how to handle a saw. “I have a basic understanding of how to go about common refurbishments, but I will need someone to show me how to correctly do the manual work on the shell construction,” says Tobias Merten.
He isn’t alone there: The other Henkel employees also pay close attention when the local construction workers begin showing them the ropes to various bricklaying activities. Everyone can have a go at each different task, and soon enough they all find their own workstation for the first day on the job. Later on, they will be able to switch so that they can work on different parts of the house. Tobias Merten carefully plasters the ceilings of the individual rooms – and receives praise from his Romanian construction colleague for his work. “Perfect,” the man says to Tobias Merten. Although body language plays a non-negligible role in their communication, the individual groups rapidly grow into an increasingly dynamic and close-knitted team.
As the days fly by, the construction work progresses and the new home for the families starts to take shape. Its future inhabitants stop by with their children every now and then to observe the work and lend a hand. “They are so happy about our contribution,” Tobias Merten says and smiles, astonished. “Experiencing it first-hand is truly wonderful.” Another thing the participants really enjoy is getting to work together with no regard to their age groups or to their different hierarchical positions at work. They are pursuing a goal that they want to reach together, with joined forces: building a home for those who need it most.
Their efforts are met in equal proportion with the families’ gratitude. A Romanian mother is visibly moved during a speech at the traditional parting meal, when one of the building trip participants directly addresses her children, who will soon be living there and hopefully have a bright future ahead of them. By the end of this exciting phase of the project, the managers, coordinators, volunteers, construction workers and families all agree: It has not just been great fun creating something durable with their own hands for people who urgently need the help – it has also shown everyone involved how important volunteer work really is. “It has been an amazing experience for me,” says Tobias Merten and adds: “I would help out on a building mission again anytime.”
Habitat for Humanity
Henkel runs the building trip as an aid project in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. The non-profit organization was founded in the USA in 1976 and builds houses for families in need all over the world. Companies and private individuals alike can volunteer to help out at the construction sites. The organization has also been present in Germany since 1998. Habitat for Humanity currently organizes most of its volunteering missions in Romania.