I arrive at the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, before the rest of my team. My itinerary instructs me to go out the exit where the taxis are and wait on the right side until the others arrive. As I wait, I stand off to the side out of the hustle and bustle of other travelers. I just stand there and take it all in. I think, this is a first for me, not only am I in Jamaica, I am also on a mission trip. Both of which I have never experienced before.
As we drive to our destination two hours south, I am overcome with such a state of conflict and confusion. I am in such awe of the beauty of the landscape. As we travel on the narrow twisty roads, the view is filled with rich beautiful colors, breathtaking vistas and also the dramatic decay and debris of hundreds of unfinished, crumbling and abandoned structures scattered across the countryside.
As the sun sets, my scenery collapses to people walking along the side of the busy narrow road illuminated only by passing vehicles skillfully weaving to miss them. As we approach each small town, the number of people increases, as does the volume of music and the sounds of people coming together as a community.
When we arrive at our destination, Nadine, our housekeeper, and her husband, Richie, greet us. As they show us around where we will be staying for the next week, I hear the ocean waves and feel the gentle salty breeze across my face. I notice that the house is a grand structure yet very simple in its furnishings, with just what is needed, a few chairs for sitting out on the balcony, table and chairs for dinner, beds and a couch in the living room.
Early the next morning, I am up early and ready for the day. I’m ready for action and to get building houses. After breakfast, we load up the weary pickup truck with tools, food and water. For the next five days, we will be building 12-x-14-foot homes. (Local organizations determine the recipients of these buildings based on who is in most need of a home.)
I sit on the tools in the back of the pickup truck for the 20-minute drive to where we will be building the first home. I get a firsthand look at the surrounding area. Again, I am in awe of the beauty and emotionally torn by the decay and debris.
After traversing narrow, rocky and very rough roads, I feel as though I had my exercise for the day from just holding on. We arrive at the location for the first home and are introduced to Kaye and her son who we are building the first home for. As part of Kaye’s commitment, she is responsible for working with the local organization who is helping her with the construction of her home.
Kaye is excited, yet overwhelmed by these strangers who are very excited to meet her. She is calm, reserved and carries a grateful smile.
I am anxious to get started, and so are the others. Once Joe Biba, the founder of Creators of Hope, gives us the details for how the house is to be built, we each naturally gravitate to tasks that fit our skills as well as ones we are willing to learn. Before long, we raise framed walls and add the beam for the roof. I am impressed with how well we all collaborate and work together. This is the first time we have worked together, yet it feels like we have done this before.
It is fun to see Kaye’s eye light up and her smile shine even more as Joe asks her where she would like her doors and windows placed.
As the structure becomes more solid, I climb up on the roof and start nailing down the wood that the sheets of zinc roofing will be screwed into. As I stand there waiting for the next piece of wood to be handed to me, I take a moment to soak in my surroundings. Again, the view is breathtaking, I can see the Caribbean Ocean across the valley off in the distance. The dirt is a beautiful deep red brown with fields of beets, eggplant and watermelon covered by an amazingly vibrant blue sky with billowy white clouds.
As we finish up Kaye’s home with her neighbors who have come to help, I am humbled by the happiness and love they all share. They radiate smiles of gratitude, teach us about the various plants and how they use them, and offer us fruit from the trees. When I share stories of the current snow and cold temperatures in Minnesota, they gracefully smile and nod; I can see in their eyes they think I am crazy.
For a country that is so beautiful, yet so devastated, I see so much joy and happiness. It puts a lot into perspective for me and helps me to realize that we have it really nice here in North America. Yes, we have our share of poverty and we need to help people here, yet there is so much to do globally that we are unaware of.
It’s these experiences that we leverage to enhance the purpose of what, how and why we do what we do with our businesses. With each new experience comes new learnings, new perspectives and new ideas. Understanding that we all are here for something greater than ourselves is what drives brands to be remarkable.
Joe Biba is the owner of Joe Biba Construction in Cuba City, Wisconsin. He has a driving passion to do more than just build houses in the United States so in 2015, he founded Creators of Hope. Since then, teams of volunteers have built more than 20 homes in Jamaica. Joe’s long-term goal is to help as many families as he can. It takes about $3,000 to build a home; and as annual funding increases, the number of teams sent each year to build homes increases.
Creators of Hope is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building and renewing lives one home at a time. We imagine a world where no one ever has to choose between shelter and survival. We build, renovate and repair houses in rural Jamaica using volunteer labor and donations. We welcome all people to work with us in partnership.