Ready for Adventure – Local couple builds homes in Macedonia
Years ago, Jeff and Melanie Meyer decided they were going to approach life the same way: ready for adventure. So when their bosses invited them to either take an expenses-paid vacation as a result of their excellent work or build homes in the Republic of Macedonia, they saw an opportunity to live accordingly.
“At Thrivent Financial, one of the things we can take advantage of is international volunteer trips,” Jeff explained. “We were invited to go to Macedonia with a group of colleagues and build a condo complex with Habitat for Humanity.”
The uncertainty, spontaneity and opportunity to meet new people captured the Meyers, and soon, they were packing.
“You have to be willing to go and not know what to expect,” Jeff said. “You don’t know what you’re going to run into, what kind of food you’re going to eat, or what the work will be like. There are a lot of unknowns, but you just have to go with it.”
A successor state of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkan nation declared independence in 1991. Located in Southeast Europe, this rapidly changing country is still emerging from its communist roots of the not-too-distant past.
“As a Balkan country, it feels a bit like you’re in Russia,” Jeff said. “Homes are small, there are a lot of high rises with no ornament to them. Some areas are drastically built up, while neighboring areas look like they were left in another era. People were driving old Soviet era automobiles, these tiny little buckets of bolts. Much of the city was designed for function, rather than beauty.”
All this history was part of the reason the Meyers were there. Under the previous Communist rule, they explained, all housing upgrades and maintenance was taken care of by the government.
“Everything was taken care of: roofing, plumbing, etc. Sometimes it was done pretty poorly, but at least it was taken care of,” Melanie explained. “After they gained independence, people became owners of their homes almost overnight, and the idea of caring for their homes blew their minds. They didn’t know how it worked.”
As a result, many of the buildings needed drastic renovation. Habitat for Humanity works on both new home builds and refurbishments to existing homes in Macedonia. The Meyers were placed on a new home build, constructing one in a series of condominium type buildings planned for the area, located about 90 minutes south of the capital, Skopje. For the duration of their 10-day trip, they spent long, hard days mixing and pouring concrete, constructing sidewalks, adding insulation, and pretty much any other job that needed to be done. And they had only basic tools to do so.
“The only real tools we had were a drill for the drywall and a small tumbler for mixing concrete,” Jeff said.
During their labor-filled days, the Meyers got to know the people well because, as a condition to receive a condo, the residents must complete at least 400 hours of volunteer work, as well.
“We were working alongside the people who would be reaping the benefits,” Jeff said, “and they were wonderful. The people are very proud but not loud or showy. One family invited us all to have dinner at their house. They make about $400 a month, but they fed and served 30 people. One young couple was so thankful, and we just fell in love with one little girl.”
On the last day of their build, all the recipients were invited to come to the site for a ceremony. Everyone put their differences aside and came together in prayer for the families who would receive these new homes. At that moment, they could feel the importance of kindness and the effects of their compassion — they had found their adventure.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Just amazing.”
Jeff and Melanie Meyer are owners of Thrivent Financial’s Pathway Financial Group in Valencia. For more information, please contact their office at 661-799-0230.