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Art Green's life-changing experience with Volunteer Build in Mexico

The "eye-opening and rewarding experience" changed Art's perspective on life. It was a reminder "that happiness is not found in money and things, but in health and family."

When the opportunity arose to help out with Volunteer Build, a charity who provides homes for poverty-stricken families, Art Green jumped at the chance.

Art, who shot to fame as New Zealand's first Bachelor, now happily engaged to Matilda Rice as a result, has just returned from an eye opening trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where he and a team of volunteers - including his sister Emily - helped to build a home for an underprivileged family of 7.

"I've been wanting to do something like this for a while," Art says of his decision to take on the build. "I have done some aid work in the past and have found it rewarding and life changing in a way that it really puts things in perspective."

Art puts the finishing touches on the newly built home. *Photo: Emily Hlavac Green*
Art puts the finishing touches on the newly built home. Photo: Emily Hlavac Green

Not one to do things by halves, Art started the build only days after completing the New York marathon, which he ran to raise money for Movember. Being over on that side of the world anyway allowed him to easily fit in the trip to Mexico, and it meant his sister, who lives in New York, could join him.

"This was one of the best parts about the experience," he says. "My sister has been living in New York for the last three years so I don't get to see her as frequently as I'd like. I think the trip brought us closer together."

While Art has done some volunteer work in the past, including a trip earlier this year to Cambodia with Matilda to help install water filtration systems to remote villages and schools, this marked his first experience with building.

"I had had zero experience building prior to this trip, so it was all very new to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Day one of our house build on the outskirts of Tijuana.
Day one of our house build on the outskirts of Tijuana.

Volunteer Build was set up by Kiwi businesswoman Diana Judge in 2008. As well as Mexico, they help build homes in Fiji, Vanuatu, Peru, Nepal and Cambodia. The building process runs like clockwork, and houses go up in just three days.

"All materials were pre-cut," says Art, "so it was like we were just hammering all the pieces in place, lining the walls, plastering, sanding and painting. I was amazed at how quickly we were able to build the whole house."

Being able to hand the home over to such a deserving family was all the thanks Art needed.

"The family were beautiful people," he says. "They were so grateful and loving. There were 7 of them - a mum, dad and their children.

"The dad works full-time as a plasterer and brick-layer only earns $100/week to support everyone. Before their new house they all lived in a one room shack made of bits of wood and plastic and anything else they could find. They shared 3 make-shift beds on dirt floors.

"I think the magnitude of what we had done for them really hit home when I watched the mum's face as she walked into her new home for the first time."

Art and the rest of the Volunteer Build team proudly stand outside the home they built - along with the new homeowners. *Photo: Emily Hlavac Green*
Art and the rest of the Volunteer Build team proudly stand outside the home they built - along with the new homeowners. Photo: Emily Hlavac Green

It was "an eye-opening and rewarding experience" that has had a real impact on Art.

"It really put things in perspective for me and really made me appreciate how good we have it in New Zealand. It also reminded me that happiness is not found in money and things, but in health and family.

"It's weird because I do feel satisfied from the great thing that we did for this family, but at the same time incredibly frustrated as I know that there are thousands more people just like them living in terrible conditions with no hope for change without the help of people outside Mexico.

"I'll treasure this house building experience forever for a number of reasons," he says. "Probably none more so than the fact that I was able to share it with my sister."

Volunteer Build's next trip is to Tonga in July 2019 to help with the Cyclone Gita rebuild.