In Macedonia, more than 15 percent of all housing is in urgent need of rehabilitation, and about 70 percent of living quarters are insufficiently insulated. At the beginning of September, 22 Henkel employees traveled to the second-poorest country in Europe for a week to help build an apartment block for families in need with the aid organization Habitat for Humanity.
Difficult living conditions and lack of prospects
On the bus ride to Veles, located about 60 kilometers southeast of Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, the challenge becomes painfully clear: Endless rows of tumbledown houses and scantily built huts line the streets. Over a fifth of the country’s more than 2 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line. Almost half of all young adults under the age of 25 are unemployed. In this country where harsh winters are the norm, energy consumption is four times higher than in industrial nations and gobbles up a huge portion of household incomes. Affordable housing that provides people with decent living conditions is the proclaimed goal of Habitat for Humanity, an international aid organization that has already supported over 13.2 million individuals throughout the world, with approximately 1.3 million construction projects completed since it was founded in 1976. Without decent shelter, according to Rilind Jegeni, a volunteer coordinator with Habitat for Humanity in Macedonia, families are stuck in a vicious circle that has negatively impacts their health, education, environment and sense of self-worth.
22 volunteers, 1,600 bricks – one mission
The foundations of the 12-apartment building were already laid by Henkel colleagues last year. Over a five-day period, the new group built on these and worked as a team to construct countless inner and outer walls and prepare the concrete beams for the next story as well as the wooden structure for the roof. Although many of the jobs felt unfamiliar at first, soon enough the construction site was busy as a beehive and revealed quite a few hidden talents.
At the end of their trip, the Henkel team visited a family who lives in one of the five apartment blocks that have already been completed, and whose living conditions have improved significantly since they moved in.
What remains is a sense of gratitude: for having made a small contribution to improving the life of a person in need in the long term. For enabling social participation. Building walls to tear down barriers.