When is the deadline?

This year I am working in the Global Learning and Organizational Development Department (GLOD) at Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) in Atlanta. One of the big projects I am working on this year is to transition Habitat for Humanity’s (HFH) intranet site called My.Habitat to a new, updated version. We are in the preliminary stages of this transition which consists of trying to determine what the new platform should look like. This brings me to the biggest (professional) adjustment I have come to face so far after leaving Davidson – you are on every time frame except for your own.

At Davidson, you have to work as efficiently as possible in order to fit big projects into tight time frames. Successfully fitting within these time frames is possible because the people they depended on were, for the most part, also within the academic boundaries of Davidson. When you move to cross-divisional projects within a giant non-profit, the time frames begin to expand. It does not seem to matter how efficiently my team and I work on moving this project forward because we are at the mercy of the time frame of every other person or department involved. For example, the first step in this process has been to meet with other nonprofits of similar sizes and structures to talk about their intranet platforms, structures, features, and their own process in reaching their current intranet. Within a few days my team and I had compiled a list of nonprofits and reached out to them. Two months later, we still have not had all of our conversations.

Another adjustment in the transition from Davidson to HFHI is bandwidth. When I joined this team to make it four members, they were finally beginning to have the bandwidth to take on bigger challenges related to our intranet site My.Habitat and our LMS site called HabitatLearns beyond the day to day maintenance and growing number of bug fixes that come with the territory of working off a 2008 platform. At Davidson, we were stretched thin and had to prioritize, but these decisions did not often impact thousands of people. The big trade-off for our team has been upholding the basic functionality of My.Habitat, or begin the transition to a new platform with increase performance, features, and functionality. My joining of the team meant that we may not have to choose one over other—until two weeks ago when one of our team members learned he was moving to Mozambique in October. Now the bandwidth will be even smaller.

The biggest personal adjustment has been moving to Atlanta. When I moved here I didn’t know anyone at all – I lived here a full month before my two amazing roommates (also DIFs) and my kittens joined me. I also moved here thinking that I had the city life down – after all, I thought Charlotte was a big city – but as it turns out, Charlotte is to Atlanta as Davidson is to Charlotte. Now that I have been here for nearly three months, I love it here. Hands down the best part about the working world compared to Davidson is free time. Real free time – not the guilt-ridden Scrubs binges on Netflix that always occurred a little too close to deadlines – but time that I truly have control over. And other than having to deal with pesky nuisances like bills, it is really nice to be outside of the Davidson bubble tackling what we millennials affectionately call “adulting.”

Expecting the Unexpected

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.” – Frederick Buechner

At some point during each of the six audit projects assignments during the span of my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International’s Internal Audit department, there has been a moment, if not moments, which have taken my breath away. These moments take on many forms – joy, heartbreak, discomfort – as I learned about the context in which Habitat is working. They are those moments that, while I can anticipate them coming, I can never quite be mentally and emotionally prepared. After this past year of service, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

As an Internal Audit department, our role distills to asking the right questions and observing the operations of each Habitat entity either domestically or internationally. Often, this involves analyzing financial statements, probing staff for longer answers, and most importantly, developing trusting and confidential relationships with each staff member. In addition to providing information on the Habitat entity’s operations, each individual provides critical insight as to the culture and socioeconomic situation of the communities and families Habitat serves. Anecdotes of her or his personal life pepper conversations, preparing me mentally for the homeowner visits.

The excursion to visit partner families in Madagascar is one that, five months later, I continue to have the same reaction. As the team piled out of the Habitat truck and proceeded to follow the GPS coordinates to the reported location, we set off on foot to traverse ragged dirt pathways. We zigzagged between half-finished houses, outdoor latrines, and buckets of standing drinking water as well as passing by families, children, and the occasional barnyard animals in the scorching 90°F heat of the January summer. I was reminded of the world’s deep need for more solutions for whom the fundamentals of daily life are missing – food, water, and shelter. Peering around a corner, I knew we had reached our final destination as I saw a home that was complete with a roof overhead and panes in the windows. That was the model Habitat home – a decent place to live.

During our conversations with the homeowners, who spoke only French and Malagasy, we learned that the mother and father felt that the Habitat home had provided a stable and dry structure in which to raise their three elementary-aged children. In addition to the primary goal of stable housing, the homeowners had been welcomed into the Habitat network of their rural community which provides additional non-quantifiable opportunities for support and friendship. The community formed in that village has brought deep joy to the partners and kids alike, and owning a decent and simple home has brought peace to the parents.

Each individual home I have visited this past year across the world – ranging from Madagascar to Malaysia – has provided joy, but only temporarily. It reaffirms the necessity of organizations such as Habitat to be working in locations of extreme need and poverty in order to empower partner families and provide sustainable support to these communities. But each project further stirs my intellectual and personal discomfort not only in the moment but months later as well. As my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International draws to a close, I know that I will carry these moments forward which will prevent my own real peace and joy until the world’s deep needs have been met.