by Doug Snyder
This writer takes a mission trip to Trivandrum — a gorgeous, rural section of Kerala in the southern west tip of India—to build concrete houses for families in need. In this life-changing experience, he learned how to build a house on the job and more about the Kerala culture. He even met sacred cows that live off the lush vegetation. Enjoy his experience through pictures.
This is Trivandrum, a city of almost 1 million people, but in India, it is considered a small city. I had no idea the life-changing experience I would go through when I decided to go on a mission trip building houses in India, I only knew that I wanted to help. I knew next to nothing about building houses, but was assured that I would quickly learn how to help.
Getting to the area in the jungle area where the houses needed to be built involved quite a lot of travel. But the time would go by fast as there was so much to see in both the city and once we got out into the rural areas. I quickly learned how to build concrete houses on the job.
When I met my fellow mission trip house builders, I immediately knew that I would like each one of them. We all got along and got closer as we went through this experience together. I was living out of a duffel bag for 10 days, learning how to build concrete houses, making friends with the people in the neighborhood, learning the possibilities of people from all over the world, coming together to help one family or several families in need. The most enjoyable part was everyone spending time together on breaks, the locals and the builders, enjoying each other’s company.
When we started, I was surprised by their method of creating concrete. Because most people couldn’t afford the common aggregates — rock and sand — we would go off the beaten path and dig up dirt with shovels, and then fill wheel barrow after wheel barrow, and roll the piles to the house we were building.
The dirt would then be sifted into a fine pile. Water and cement would then be added and people would take turns mixing it, and stirring it continuously, sometimes for hours, making sure it stayed wet. It was definitely one of the most grueling parts of the job, but it was a great workout!
We would then help plaster the walls with it, a task that took great skill and some time to get good at it.
We got to see how people in rural India really live. Water was very scarce and if taken from pipes, the dangers of dysentery (and worse) were always present. So, many people relied on wells, which were the best ways to get fresh water. The dangers that drinking water poses in India created in me an appreciation for every sip of clean water. There were towering billboards in Kerala that listed the life-threatening dangers of drinking water — a constant reminder of how fragile life is, regarding something many people in the U.S. take for granted everyday.
When we were there, working on houses, most of the water we drank was either bottled water or well water. This is one of the wells a family used for drinking water, to wash their clothes, and to cook.
This family was the sweetest and most welcoming of all. They were eager to meet us, especially the children, and find out where we were from and what our lives were like back home.
One of my truly greatest experiences was meeting the countless holy cows throughout India. The people truly care for them and the laws keep them from being harmed in any way, even by accident. The cows were so sweet and gentle. Unlike in cities like Delhi, in Kerala sacred cows have a pleasant existence, since there is so much space and vegetation for them to live off of.
By the end of the journey after helping build the three homes I was so close with my group — but also with the families that I had met, helping build their homes; it was hard to think that I might not see them again. But I was comforted by the memories I made. I witnessed a joy and love for life in people who have far less than anyone I have ever seen, met, or know in America. I returned in awe of things in everyday life I had barely even noticed before.
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