For many college students, summer is a time to unwind from the challenges of university life. It's a time to lift the head out of the books, to turn off the ‘whirl of knowledge’ and to breathe.
Brianna Hanna, Donegal town, a second-year student in Galway studying geography, sociology and political studies, will take on a whole new meaning in life in June when she heads off as a volunteer to Zambia.
Habitat for Humanity, the international organisation that Brianna is volunteering with, has a strong track record for the calibre of its work and the support it provides to the volunteers. Habitat for Humanity Ireland’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
“Since I was small I have felt a draw to India; my dream is to be there working with women, to understand their lives and culture and to support their empowerment through community education and development. Going to Zambia is a step towards fulfilling this dream," she says.
During the three weeks that Brianna and the other volunteers are in Zambia, they will live and build alongside future homeowners, community members and local trade professionals.
"I am so looking forward to being immersed in a different culture, to all the new experiences and challenges it holds, but also carrying that sense of community that unites people, whether you are in Donegal or Zambia," she adds.
So what have the challenges been for Brianna so far and what are the challenges she expects to encounter?
"Part of the preparation has been to learn about Zambia, the people, the culture to have an understanding of the social, economic and political landscape. 'Home comforts' as I know them will be left at home! The work starts early, showers are buckets of water being thrown at you, it’s dark by 6 pm and part of a dress code is having your legs covered at all times.”
Brianna explains she is very much a home bird. “I talk to my Mum every day, so not being able to do this will be a huge wrench for me. I am a vegetarian so this may also prove difficult.”
Brianna will be able to phone home once a week, but homesickness is a real concern. “ I think the next month maybe a bit of an ‘emotional roller coaster’ for me, but I am preparing myself for this.”
We all need role models, people who inspire us, motivate us, challenge us and sustain us. Listening to Brianna, her older sister Katelyn certainly holds this title. Both share a keen interest in the role of women and do not shy away from calling themselves feminists. They believe in women making informed choices, having bodily autonomy, having equal access to resources, education, employment, etc.
"I don’t believe in pushing my agenda, but I think it is important that young women are seen and heard. I have been on marches and I am not afraid to stand up and speak out for what I believe in," Brianna says.
Her parents, Damien and Margaret, have been an incredible support.
“I know they are very proud of me. Once they knew I had made up my mind to go Zambia, they have been there with me very step of the way; encouraging me, supporting me, helping me in so many practical ways. Mum listening to me daily, to Dad, who took us all by surprise when he too shaved his hair when I did. I know he did this for me and for the cause and it was a very special moment.” Brianna had shaved her head in a fundraising event to support her work with Habitat.
Brianna has also tapped into the wisdom and experience of her cousin Tasmin, who previously volunteered. She heads off to Zambia with armsful of love, respect and admiration from grandparents, family members, friends and well-wishers.
Safe travels, Brianna, enjoy the experience and we look forward to hearing all about your experiences.