Dedicated Kiwis head to Ethiopia to build homes for families


Livewire RMB prefers more effective ‘hands on’ approach

Just as he said he would in the Dec/Jan issue of Building Today, Auckland Registered Master Builder Marty van der Burg has been back to Ethiopia to investigate the logistics of taking a team of Kiwis there to help construct homes on behalf of Habitat for Humanity.


Marty first got involved with building for people in need through a project by the Paul Holmes television programme a couple of years ago. With fellow RMB Rod Percival taking the lead, they built a house for the Ofafonua family in 2004.


He was then approached by Habitat for Humanity to take part in a “Building Blitz” in South Auckland where five houses were built by more than 500 volunteers in a week. Marty and his team were responsible for building one of the five houses while, at the same time, teaching volunteers skills in the building trade.


For the sum of just NZ$2500, a house can be built in Ethiopia — a fairly paltry sum to accommodate an entire family. Marty donates this sum out of the profit of every house he builds here in New Zealand, but feels he can be a lot more effective by taking a hands-on approach.


“I know that if I can expose a team from here to the kind of poverty these people have to deal with and show them how a little can go a long way, the ‘can do’ Kiwi attitude will take over and we will achieve a lot more on the ground over there,” he says.


The return trip in February this year helped Marty cement the necessary relationships and piece together a plan to ensure this project was possible. The city of Jimma, in the Kefa province of south-west Ethiopa, has been identified as the place that the New Zealand team will be based.


This is one of the larger coffee growing areas, and was chosen particularly for this reason because it will aid subsistence farmers and their families. Coffee is second only to oil as the world’s largest commodity, and these coffee growers see very little of the profits generated from their hard labour.


Marty’s team of volunteers is made up of 19 Kiwis ranging from 21 to 73 years old, and is the first New Zealand team to go to Ethiopia for a Habitat for Humanity project.


As well as the four RMBs (three from Auckland and one from Wanganui) there is a policeman, a barista, a plumber, two handymen, an art student, a personal trainer, a couple of retired blokes, two people from the wider construction industry, an IT manager and two New Zealand resident Ethiopians who will be invaluable in helping the team get immersed in the culture.


Team member Jo Duggan, marketing development manager for Resene, says she has spent the past 15 years working for a number of organisations in the construction industry.


“I met Marty during this time and a couple of months ago he canvassed my interest in being a part of this project. My first reaction was that I’d love to go and what a fantastic opportunity, but then reality set in — four weeks’ leave from a relatively new job, a teenage daughter at home, a family dog, not quite finished renovations — the list goes on.


“But after more thought and my daughter telling me I couldn’t not go, the decision was made.


Donated regularly

“I have donated regularly to many different charities in the past, but you sometimes really don’t know where the money goes. With Habitat for Humanity I really like the idea of giving up my time, energy and a bit of money and seeing what you are doing first hand.


“It’s going to be a dramatically different experience, and I am pleased I am at a stage in my life that I am able to do it. I am hoping this experience will drive me to do more at home,” Jo says.


They will hit the ground running with some houses that need finishing and six new, very labour-intensive mud brick houses to complete in the short time they are there.


They’ll also take a look around the area and visit a coffee plantation and the Fair Trade offices in Addis Ababa, and an orphanage that is supported by the Ethiopian community based in Auckland.


“I want to show the team, first hand, the good work that’s being done and that this is a place where you can trust the donation dollar,” Marty says.


As well as needing to take four weeks off work, members of the team are all dipping into their own pockets to cover the costs of them being in Ethiopia. Marty has been busily generating sponsorship to cover the cost of the team’s flights, and contributions have been very kindly donated by Gloria Jeans Coffee, PlaceMakers National Office, Absolute Waste Services, Crosson Clarke, Carnachan Architects, PlaceMakers Mt Wellington, Nautica Homes, Cerebos Greggs and James Hardie.


Apart from a number of individual donations, there have been contributions from Architectural Profiles Ltd and East Auckland Registered Master Builders who took collections at events they’ve held recently.


The team leaves on October 6, and we’ll be following their progress in future issues of Building Today. We wish Marty and the team all the very best, and commend them on flying the Registered Master Builders and New Zealand flags for such a worthy cause.


For more information on Habitat for Humanity go to or, if you are interested in supporting the team or getting involved, contact Marty van der Burg on 021 670 721 or 09 579 5516, or email [email protected].

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