Gran the builder, can she fix it?

ANNA LOREN
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014
NEPAL

MILLION-DOLLAR VIEWS: The Chitwan district build site has views to Mount Everest.

Tuakana Wichman
MUCKING IN: Tuakana Wichman works on a build site on her trip to Vietnam last year.

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Age is no barrier to building a house - Tuakana Wichman has proved that.

The 82-year-old has already helped to build homes for needy families in Otara, Bangladesh and Vietnam with the housing charity Habitat for Humanity.

She'll be donning her carpenters' gloves again when she heads to Nepal in November.

Habitat for Humanity is planning to build 100 homes over six days for families in the impoverished Chitwan district - one of its biggest projects yet.

Wichman says she's looking forward to the trip and feels a special connection to Nepal with Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate close to her Favona home.

"I most enjoy seeing the people and seeing the country. It's really wonderful to help."

Many people don't believe her when she tells them of her adventures, she says.

"People ask me, 'Tuakana, when you're building, what do you do?' And I say, 'well, I climb up the top!' They say, 'really, can you do that?' and I say, 'of course'!"

The great-grandmother will be working alongside about 1500 other volunteers from around the world when she goes to Nepal.

They'll be building homes out of bamboo, clay brick and wattle and daub, a mixture of clay, sand and cement.

Each house will have two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and toilet.

That's a far cry from the families' present living conditions, which are little more than shacks, Habit for Humanity's Conrad LaPointe says.

The recipients are working families - often agricultural workers or those with low-paid state jobs, like teaching.

"They're what you see as your 'dollar a day' families. On the builds, people are often shocked by the poverty."

Habitat for Humanity builds homes both in New Zealand and abroad in an effort to "stretch" its resources, LaPointe says.

There is plenty of cheap land in Nepal but limited cash for building.

In New Zealand the opposite is true, he says.

Family members work on the building sites too so the volunteers get to feel like they're part of the community.

"It add a real impetus for the build because people want to build as best as they can and make it as beautiful as they can for that family," LaPointe says.

"You're building houses that will last for generations so that impact will be there long after you've gone."

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

The Everest Build will be held from November 15 to 23.

Volunteers are split into teams and are led by qualified Habitat for Humanity builders.

No previous experience is necessary but volunteers are expected to pay for their own travel and expenses.

■ Call Conrad LaPointe on 027 239 1082 or email northland@habitat.org.nz to find out more.

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- Manukau Courier

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