Ethiopian experience likely to give Willie new perspective

17:00, Sep 15 2009
Willie Coulter
BROADENING HORIZONS: Oranga builder Marty van der Burg, left, is taking Willie Coulter, 16, to build houses in Ethiopia.

An Oranga teenager is hoping a trip to the other side of the world will give him a new perspective on life.

Willie Coulter, 16, leaves for Ethiopia on Saturday where he will build houses for the needy as part of a Habitat for Humanity team.

Local builder Marty van der Burg takes volunteers to Ethiopia each year to work on building sites for the organisation.

This year he has organised two teams to work in the north and south of the country.

Willie says he’s "happy as" to be going on the trip and is looking forward to his first overseas experience.

He’s never done any building before but he’ll be helping to build a series of 25 square metre homes for families and digging long-drop toilets.


Last year, Willie’s friend Gus Sanft went to Ethiopia in Mr van der Burg’s Habitat team to help turn his life around.

The trip was so successful, Mr van der Burg decided to pitch taking a local young person along on the trips as an annual event.

He got the support of the Oranga Community Centre and Youth Court judge Tony Fitzgerald, who saw the difference the trip made to Gus.

“I think it’s fantastic. Not everyone is going to get the chance to go to Ethiopia, but it encourages people to think of other opportunities for young people to extend their horizons and encourage them to get involved in a positive way,” says Mr Fitzgerald. Child, Youth and Family Services also got on board and will help select the young person to go on the trip each year and partly fund them.

“I knew Willie anyway from being in the local community and he knows Gus. I think Willie is the right person to be going. His dad is keen and Willie is keen,” says Mr van der Burg.

He says most New Zealanders know little about Ethiopia other than the negative stories in the media, but he believes it is Africa’s best kept secret.

“It could be a tourism mecca. It’s a fascinating place and the people are so nice.”

Willie will spend a month in the country building the Habitat houses alongside the locals who will live in them and also take in some of the historical sights.

He’s looking forward to making new friends among his teammates and seeing what life is like on the other side of the world.

The Western Springs Rotary Club has donated shovels and spades, which can be left with the Ethiopians to help them out.

Central Leader