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Celebrating International Women’s Day: Meet Habitat For Humanity Volunteer, Ruth Bailey

Ruth Bailey Habitat For Humanity hero images
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10 March is Project Home Works Day

To us, International Women’s Day means celebrating the women who make a positive impact on other people’s lives. We sat down with Ruth Bailey, a Habitat For Humanity volunteer who donates her time building homes around the world. Habitat’s vision – a world where everyone has a decent place to live – is one Sassy Mama can get behind, so we had to learn more about its events, including the Project Home Works Day on 10 March!

Habitat For Humanity Ruth Bailey working on roof

How did you get involved with Habitat For Humanity?

To be honest, it was because they were accessible online and available at late notice! I wish I could give you a more altruistic answer but I’m afraid that’s just not the case.

Three years ago, I took six months off between jobs and really wanted to do something meaningful with my time. But, as usual, I left it to the last minute to organise. I work in construction and am passionate about the positive impact that the built environment needs to have on our world. So I put my Googling skills to work, and tried to find something that would fit my passion, my timeframes and my budget. Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village projects take place in so many different places and at lots of different times – I literally just picked the programme that suited my dates.

Habitat For Humanity Ruth Bailey holding up hands

After one project I was hooked. They call it “Habititus”. Before the end of that build programme I had signed up for two more. In three months, I took part in projects in Romania, Ethiopia and Hawaii.

The Global Village build projects are really inspirational experiences. I may be a construction project manager and chartered structural engineer but those skills were of very little use when building a mud hut in Ethiopia or a straw bale community centre in Romania. I was there as a labourer, just like everyone else. Working as part of a team of people from around the world, getting my hands dirty and sweating alongside the family whose house you are building was more satisfying than any of the construction projects I have been involved with.

Since I’ve been back in HK, I’ve been supporting the Habitat for Humanity team here using a few more of my professional skills but also, more importantly, acting as an advocate. Habitat for Humanity believes strongly in the value of advocacy. Not everyone has the time to be able to volunteer but that doesn’t mean you can’t help spread the word about what Habitat for Humanity does, the huge impact that decent housing can have on society.

Habitat For Humanity Ruth Bailey woman looking

Tell us about Project Home Works and why it’s so special?

Project Home Works is a tangible way to support low-income, often elderly, individuals or families in Hong Kong to improve their homes. They are living in public housing estates, surviving entirely on government subsidy, and either cannot afford to maintain their homes or are physically unable to do so. The homes have paint flaking off ceilings and walls in large strips and mould developing in kitchen and washroom areas. The connection established with the family you are helping is really what makes it special. While volunteers complete the renovation work, we have the opportunity to chat to the family, getting to know them and understand a bit more about their life. It’s definitely a physical day of hard work, but very satisfying.

Habitat For Humanity Ruth Bailey squalor inside

What projects do you have here in Hong Kong for which people can volunteer?

Here in Hong Kong, volunteers can join our home renovation programme (Project Home Works). We’re out in Hong Kong’s public housing estates most Saturdays, making a difference to families living in quite difficult conditions. Another great project organised by Habitat Hong Kong is Project School Works. This involves going into a school in a low-income neighbourhood and the day’s activity consists of two parts. Before lunch, students, parents and volunteers play a board game developed by Habitat Hong Kong called ‘My City’. By playing the game, everyone learns about housing issues in Hong Kong and it provides a neutral platform to talk about a pretty sensitive topic. The afternoon is spent painting murals on schools walls, depicting houses from around the world, or words associated with a decent home, like ‘health’ and ‘family’ – or whatever the school asks for!

As well as Project Home Works and Project School Works, Habitat Hong Kong sometimes takes on special, one-off, projects, most recently renovating a senior citizens home in Pokfulam. Habitat needs volunteers for this too! No experience or particular skills are required, just a willingness to contribute. Details can be found on or by calling 2520 4000.

What’s your favourite part about this project?

For me, it’s the reality check that I get from seeing the very real struggles that many people face every day. In Hong Kong it is very easy to forget what life is like for over 20% of the population here who live below the poverty line. Being involved with this project reminds me to be more grateful, to be kinder, to be a better advocate and to be more generous because I am extremely fortunate to have a decent place to live.

Habitat For Humanity Ruth Bailey working with woman

How are you celebrating International Women’s Day this year?

This year I’ll be taking part in a women’s build project for Habitat for Humanity, here in HK on 10 March. We’ll be renovating apartments in the Lok Wu Estate in Kowloon. I have nine wonderful friends (guys and girls!) joining me and, between us, we hope to be able to renovate two female-headed households. Despite major advances in women’s rights, half of the world’s population continues to not have autonomy in many of their life choices. This is most plainly demonstrated when zooming in on the dynamics that revolve around a house. In an unsafe and substandard home, low-income women are more likely to suffer from ill health, be at risk of disasters or be the victim of violence or sexual attack. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate IWD than working towards a place where everyone has a decent place to live.

Read more: Raising Sons And Daughters In The #MeToo Era

Habitat For Humanity, 23/F, Congregation House, 119-121 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2520 4000

All images courtesy of Ruth Bailey

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