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How to make a difference: join a service team led by Chuck Peterson

Chuck Peterson holds a baby in Myanmar while the service team was there.

Maybe ‘someday’ you considered joining a service team to another country -- 2019 could be  your year of action.

“I would love for anybody to take the next step and have the experience they’ll never regret,” said Chuck Peterson, a service team leader from Dickinson. “It’s easy to put off, but people who do make the effort, usually sign up and go again.”

Peterson has organized three service team trips for 2019-- Antigua, Guatemala, in February, Zambia, Africa, in April and Ajloun, Jordan, in September.

Peterson  participated on his first service team in 1992 -- a Global Village Habitat for Humanity trip to India. It only required the one trip to realize this would become his life’s work.

“I think it’s experiencing the country and people while we’re doing some good working with people,” said Peterson, who retired early as an attorney at the  Mackoff-Kellogg Law Firm. “This is my passion. This is what I want to do.”

Volunteers on his team come from countries around the world and meet up at their point of destination.

“We work in every country with their local coordinator and local organization. We come down to Guatemala and God’s Child takes care of us. It’s the same for Habitat for Humanity,” he said.

Each team consists of 12 to 15 people -- certain countries like Jordan limit teams to 12, others welcome up to 17 or 18 volunteers.

“The volunteers make their own arrangements and pay their own way. The fee covers the in-country expenses basically,” he said.

The age of volunteers varies.

“We’ve taken people ages 12 to 79,” he said. “I’d say on some of my teams, the average age is 60 -- they have the time, they have the finances. It’s something a lot of retired people are doing.”

The trips are for one week -- allowing time to work on one house or maybe two. Sometimes, another service team starts or finishes their work.

“We don’t need anybody who is experienced in construction,” Peterson said. “Volunteers will work fine if they are willing to listen to directions. We alway use a local construction contractor, we use local materials, we build in their way. In Myanmar, 100 percent was built out of woven  bamboo and nobody was experienced around that. We’ll always find something for people to do no matter their experience or energy level.”

The service teams arranges for cultural experiences depending on what the group wants to do

“In Africa we might visit local people or we might go on a safari,” he said.

Peterson’s service team was in Jordan in May.

“My wife, Sandee, said we had to come back so we arranged our next trip. It’s such a cultural experience. We had dinner with different families each night and got to know them.They became like family -- it was a neat experience.”

Peterson is visiting Zambia for the first time.

“I wanted to get back to Africa after Zimbabwe a couple of years ago,” he said. “Zambia has significant needs and a vulnerable population.  Because of the generation that died from AIDS, a lot of grandparents are taking care of grandchildren.”

Peterson has been on about 20 service team trips, including 12 to Guatemala.  His favorites? “Myanmar was amazing. Ethiopia was probably one of my favorites because the people formed community to help each other building houses and we assisted them.”

The cost varies, depending on the destination. The Guatemala trip is $970 to cover in-country costs -- the flight is extra.The Zambia trip is more expensive -- approximately $2,300 plus the flight and the Jordan trip is approximately $1,600 plus the flight.

Meduna’s experiences

Chuck Meduna of Dickinson has been on two trips -- Paraguay in the fall of 2016 and Portugal in the summer of 2017. He and his wife Janel are joining the teams to Guatemala and Jordan next year.

“We get in some cultural activities when were not building,” he said. “You meet a lot of people in the country. It’s a really good experience.”

Now retired, Chuck was still working with the propane business when he went on the first trips. He remembers the team worked on two houses in Paraguay.

“You come into it when other team leaves -- you do a section but don’t complete a house-- our team started from scratch. There was no power equipment -- everything was done by hand,” he said.

The Portugal experience was a little different -- his service team renovated an abandoned structure to make it livable.

Meduna is looking forward to visiting Jordan because his first Jordan trip was cancelled for health reasons.

“Janel is looking forward to Guatemala because we’ll be working with children. We only build three days, and some of the time is spent in the schools. It sounds like fun.”

Speaking to anyone who is considering a trip, Meduna said, “I would say try it because the rewards far outweigh the work. There’s no risks; security is excellent. There  isn’t anything to fear. Whatever you contribute, that’s fine -- there’s no deadlines. I feel for ever cent I contributed toward the expenses, the Lord has given back 100-fold.”

The three opportunities for service and adventure are as follows:

God’s Child Project, Antigua, Guatemala, from Feb. 2-10.

We will work with the families supported by the project including house building, clothing and vegetable distribution, and also assist the staff at the Casa Jackson Malnutrition Center for an action-packed week in the city of Antigua.

Habitat for Humanity, Zambia, Africa, from April 5-14.

Zambia remains one of the least developed nations in the world. Unemployment and poverty are  widespread with 82% living on less than $2 a day. There is a shortage of over 2 million housing units in Zambia. Decent housing in urban areas remains unattainable and unaffordable for most people and slums abound. Most struggle to afford the frequent necessary repairs to their mud, wattle and grass thatch roof homes. Cracked and broken walls invite rain and rodents into houses, which in turn pose serious health risks. Families are crowded into a single room, which usually also serve as a kitchen. Children are exposed daily to life-threatening environments.

We will assist the local partner families in building decent housing while truly getting to know the people and culture of Zambia.

Habitat for Humanity, Ajloun, Jordan, Sept. 14-20.

We just returned from an amazing time in Jordan and are excited to go back next year. Hope you can join us for an experience in the Arabic culture and wonderful caring people of Jordan. Space is limited so make a commitment soon. You will then have plenty of time to plan your tour of the area before or after the build. This is one you will never regret.

To learn the details about 2019 opportunities, email Peterson at