SMU students wait to board the bus. The trip to Mississippi will take two days.

Students use reading week for humanitarian work

SMU Habitat is bringing 49 students to Mississippi to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

Visit the HRM chapter for Habitat for Humanity.  


Kristen Gouchie and Harleen Kang have been anxiously awaiting for reading break since September – but not because they’re in need of some rest and relaxation.

Gouchie and Kang are Saint Mary’s students who belong to the SMU Habitat society. The society is taking a week-long trip to Mississippi to build houses over reading week.

“We want to show that we’re not just all about going out (to party) for spring break,” says Kang, “We want to do something for the community.”

The group boarded the bus today at 1p.m. for a two-day trip through the States. They arrive in Mississippi on Sunday and will be joining other Habitat for Humanity volunteers to build costal homes for Hurricane Katrina victims.

There are 49 students going on the trip, most of them are from SMU. The students raised money through bake sales, contacting corporate sponsors and putting on fundraising events on campus and downtown to pay for the trip. It cost $435 per person.

Kang was co-head of fundraising. She says they raised $5,000 from corporate sponsors alone, and about $7,000 in all.

Most of the money will go toward the trip, but some will be presented to the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, HRM Habitat.

Kang says the money is worth it.

“We all know the story about Katrina,” she says. “There’s still so much damage down there so we wanted to help out as much as can.”

 Gouchie was one of the founders of the society that was just ratified this year. She says it was difficult to get things off the ground, but it was worth it.

“It’ was extremely difficult to go through the ratification process,” she says. “But we’ve been looking forward to it since September… We’ve put at least 200 hours each of volunteer work just to plan it. So when we get down there I hope that everyone realizes how good it will feel to help people out.”

The group built a house in Spryfield in October. The young women say this is what really sparked the interest.

“We worked there for a day, landscaping and painting,” says Kang. “There were about 20 of us that went, and we saw how fun it was and then we wanted to go somewhere else.”

The students will be building from 8:30-4:30 from Monday to Friday. When they get there, they will find out whether they will be finishing a house or starting one.

“We’re either going to be at the end of the final product, or at the beginning where we’re actually starting the foundation and the walls – both of those would be exciting,” says Gouchie.

But the trip won’t be all hard labour. Gouchie says she’s looking forward to some warmer weather. The group will get to explore New Orleans and the beach while they’re there, and will also be on a guided tour of the Hurricane Katrina sites with a Katrina survivor.

Gouchie says she first got interested in Habitat when a friend told her how much fun it was.

“She was just ecstatic about how much fun it was, and how she felt when she came back. She felt so empowered and that she actually helped people. I thought it was a really good cause to get involved with,” she says.

Besides having trouble becoming a society, Gouchie says everyone has been very supportive.

“I think everything we’ve done to plan for it will pay off,” says Gouchie. “It’ll be emotional when we get there… We’ve had really good success on our campus. We want to help eradicate poverty any way we can.”


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