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A hand up, not a hand out

Habitat for Humanity board members Jim and Ann Dowman are a volunteering duo. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

It’s a vacation with a purpose. That’s how Ann Dowman describes her volunteer work for communities overseas.

The American-born Habitat for Humanity volunteer first set foot in New Zealand in 1999 on a global village build.

“It is part of the Habitat programme where teams go all around the world and volunteer their labour and pay their way to come and donate money to the locals.”

Ann had several options when it came to places to go, but chose New Zealand because it was on the other side of the world from her hometown in Georgia.

She wanted to experience something very different to what she was used to, because she thought she would never go back to New Zealand again.

But little did she know that a year later, she would come back and fall in love with Te Puke native Jim Dowman.

“In 2000 I was getting ready to retire from teaching,” says Ann. “I went to leadership training in the US and brought a team back the next year to the Bay of Plenty.

“New Zealand’s got a great reputation and I wanted to recruit people to tell them what it is like. That’s when I met Jim. We started dating, and in 2001 we got married.”

Ann and her husband Jim, who is also involved in Habitat, joined the board and became host coordinators for teams arriving from overseas.

“We have taken about 30 teams out from New Zealand to places like Fiji, Samoa, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Myanmar,” she says. “Teams also went to India and Samoa during natural disasters.

“It’s like a vacation with a purpose, because you go to places you often haven’t been to before. You’re working, but you’re part of the community.”

Ann and Jim, 18 years on, are still very much involved in Habitat for Humanity Bay of Plenty, and have plans to take a team to Chile in August. The organisation currently has two homes under construction, and plans to build another six this year for lower income families with charitable needs. Over the last 24 years, 64 homes have been constructed.

“Homes constructed in the Bay of Plenty and around the world really build the family and community,” says Ann, “because while we are helping, the family is also helping and learning skills to help themselves and their neighbours.”

For more information about Habitat for Humanity Bay of Plenty, or to join a team abroad, email Jim and Ann via: jimanndowman@gmail.com

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