“We’ve always been interested in making our vacations mean something,” he said. So they joined a group of Habitat for Humanity volunteers to build a house in Thailand.
Dr. Muley is a faculty member in the Natural Sciences Department..
“We have a friend who volunteers with Habitat and she told us about this project in Thailand,” he said. “It was in Chiang Mai, in the northern part of the country. The group leader, Jan Roberta, was very excited about it; she made it sound like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The trip was from November 25 to December 2.
“We went with an open mind,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect. The only thing we heard from our friend was to be prepared to work.”
There were 12 people in the group, six from the United States and six from a variety of other nations. It consisted of 10 women and two men, ranging in age from 20 to 74.
The work was hard and tiring.
“The only mechanical tool on site was a concrete mixer,” Dr. Muley said. They dug holes by hand, set the concrete posts, built walls and raised the tin roof.
“The experience was fantastic,” he said. “We worked from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. each day with an hour for lunch. It was all physical work. It was tiring but it provided a sense of accomplishment. Every day you could see progress.”
When the group left, 80 to 90 percent of the structure was complete.
The house will be occupied by a family of seven: a set of parents, grandparents and three children.
“One thing I like about Habitat for Humanity is it is not a handout,” Dr. Muley said. “The owners still had to take out a small mortgage and they worked with us. The grandmother worked every day we were there. When we would drive in each morning, she’d be there, grinning from cheek to cheek.”
While there wasn’t much time for doing anything other than work, at the end of each day they were able to soak up some of the Thai culture.
“Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, and it has beautiful temples,” he said. “We’d be traveling back to our hotel at the end of the day – all tired and sweaty – and we’d stop at one of the temples and go inside. It was very enlightening.”
This was Dr. Muley’s first experience with Habitat, but it won’t be his last. He is planning a trip to New Mexico next August for a project there and he is also looking for more local opportunities.
Was it worth it?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I like the idea of a meaningful vacation and I like the idea of making a difference.”