March 19, 2011

One Volunteer's Story of Building a Straw Bale Home

 A Volunteer’s Perspective
By Patricia S.

Patricia painting

Ask Red Feather volunteers to describe their experiences on a home build, and it may be hard to get a concise answer. Describing the Red Feather experience is sometimes difficult to narrow down into one simple statement because it’s so full of a variety of experiences.  It often includes challenges both mental and physical, and truly demands hard work.  But the time spent on a build project is always extremely rewarding, and full of many life-changing experiences. 

One thing to expect is the physical labor.  You are there to build a house, after all, and you are put to work every day.  You will have sore muscles you did not even know you had.  Your back and arms might ache after a long day of stucco work.  

Almost home, a tent in the sand
But when you lay down your head in that tent of yours - sore and longing for a real bed - you’ll fall instantly asleep, tired from a satisfying day of work and well-rested when you hear the breakfast bell.  You will wake up knowing that despite your own lowly accommodations, your sore muscles are all part of bringing that house one day closer to a new home for a family in need. 
Morning rainbow at Bacavi in Hopi country

When you first arrive at the site, you may be a little unsure about that kitchen tent.  You have got a whole week of “camp” food ahead of you, and you are a little worried if it will be any good, or if you will get enough to eat.  By the end of the week, it is possible that you have actually gained weight because the food was delicious and abundant.  Your first day at home after the build might even find you waiting for the bell, summoning you to a fresh cooked feast made with love.  The kitchen crew sure knows how to cook, and there is certainly no shortage of good food on a Red Feather build. 

Friends blowing in the wind riding to a corn field
No matter what week you attend, you are guaranteed to meet new people and work side-by-side with a stranger.  In spite of each volunteer’s unique background, construction experience and work style, you will find yourself getting to know and befriending people very different from yourself.  And, by the end of your time at the build, you will realize that everyone there has something to contribute and everyone is there with a good heart. 

Ants on a log snack
There is sure to be a variety of weather conditions on every Red Feather project.  In fact, you might encounter the rainstorm of your life and if you do not pay attention to where you put your tent, it just might get flooded.  But it will probably be followed by the most gorgeous southwest sunset you have ever seen, glowing red against the desert backdrop.  The wind might blow 60 miles per hour one day, but then you find shelter inside the home you have helped build out of straw.  No huffing and puffing will blow that house down.  Snow might fall in freezing temperatures, or the sun might blaze down on your back on an eighty degree day - or both during the same week!  Nevertheless, the kitchen crew is there morning and afternoon, like clockwork, with hot cocoa or an ice cold smoothie to keep everyone happy.  No matter the weather, work goes on and makes you feel that more satisfied when the job is done. 

Daily schedule for kitchen crew & tool trailer
Maybe you have never been to a Red Feather build but you do construction work for a living.  You are sure you know everything there is to know about how to hang drywall.  By the end of the week, you have learned a new trick about how to tape that sheet rock effectively.  Or, perhaps you can barely hit a nail on the head and are a little afraid that the staff is actually going to expect you to use power tools. Maybe you left the nail gun to your partner, but you learned how to use the chop saw safely.  No matter your skills, you will learn something new, and you will be proud of yourself because you helped build a house.

Hopi women rolling the dough
By nature, Red Feather projects are always in communities rich with culture and tradition.  Maybe you have never been to a build project, but have visited Hopi on your own years ago.  You are intrigued by the culture and are excited to experience it again.  But you realize during the build that no guided tour can provide the same feeling as sharing a meal with the woman who grew the beans and labored over her piki stone to make the traditional food before you.  No matter your prior exposure, there is something about experiencing these cultures as a Red Feather volunteer that is truly one of a kind.
Fry bread

So, what can you expect on a Red Feather project?  Every build is a little different.  You can never be sure what the weather will bring, but every week brings a new group of faces.  The demanding work might be new to you.  However, you can count on the fact that you will come away satisfied.  You will make new friends and learn new skills.  You will experience a rich culture and see beauty all around you.  Your life will forever be changed. 

And no matter what, you will build one house.
The end
 Patricia is a fellow volunteer on many Red Feather builds. She lives, when not in a tent, with her husband in a tiny town, Tsaile, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation just below the Chuska Mountains. They garden in a hoop house to be able to grow veg at 7000 feet elevation. Sometimes their tomatoes freeze but they have not given up on trying many other cold hearty crops.
Red Feather works in Indian Country on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona and on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.  Check out volunteer opportunities at our website:
Sunrise at Northern Cheyenne in Montana


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