STA Senior Zane Buckner Fights Poverty in Peru
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STA Senior Zane Buckner Fights Poverty in Peru

By Megan Mosher

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 12:34 PM CDT

HAPPY TO HELP , MAKING FRIENDS -- Left, St. Thomas Aquinas senior Zane Buckner smiles at the camera from his perch on a ladder where he is working to build one of the 30 houses he and his stepfather helped build during their trip to Peru. Right, Albany resident Randy Mayer poses with a Peruvian child he met during his recent trip to La Florida, Peru, with his stepson.
Though he has traveled in England, France, Italy and Canada, Zane Buckner said his recent trip to Peru with the Fuller Center for Housing opened his eyes to another side of the world.

“It really changed my life to seeing how so many people were so happy with so little and how much we have and how much we’re not happy,” Buckner said.

Poverty was the biggest difference he saw between the countries he has visited, he said.

Buckner, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic High School in Hammond, and his stepfather, Albany dentist Randy Mayer, recently returned from a seven-day build in La Florida, Peru, an area mostly occupied by migrant workers or day laborers in search of work. The two joined about 45 other Americans to build about 30 houses during their stay, leaving the United States the Friday after Hurricane Isaac.

Mayer said the experience was eye-opening for him as well, seeing how the people lived with no electricity, water or sewer. Their houses, if they can be called that, were primarily grass shacks with dirt floors and plastic tarps serving as roofs, he said.

The houses the group built were very small with concrete floors but clean and provide more privacy for their occupants. Mayer said one little lady was so excited about her new concrete floors, she walked down to the little town and carried back two big five-gallon buckets to sweep and mop her floors.

“We respected those concrete floors. That was like her marble,” Mayer said.

The country is gray and bleak, with almost no vegetation, Mayer said. Though the temperature stayed between 60 and 65 degrees, the hilly terrain was quite a switch for the “flatlanders.” The volunteers worked mostly with hand tools because of the lack of electricity.

“I’m 65 now, and it got pretty tough. But then I’d see little small women right next to me working and I just couldn’t give up,” Mayer chuckled. “The American male pride wouldn’t let you quit.”

The houses are built on land owned by the Peruvians and they eventually buy the house from the Fuller Center through no-interest loans with very small monthly payments. The house occupants are required to work on the houses along with the volunteers that come to help build, and they are very excited to help.

Buckner heard about the trip through his involvement with the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing. He became involved in service work because his parents thought it would look good to colleges, he said. But as he became more involved, he decided he liked doing service work for the work itself and the people he was helping.

He personally called the Fuller Center and began working in the ReUse store between the age of 16 and 17. He was so dedicated to his work, that Ginger Ford Fuller officials decided to make him the youngest board member.

“We were so impressed with his volunteer efforts at the ReUse Store that we offered to let him be our high school representative,” said Tamara Danel with the Fuller Center. “He’s been an excellent board member, even at 18 years old. It’s pretty impressive. It’s a special opportunity for him.”

Buckner works to get other high school students involved in Fuller Center projects. He said he enjoys working with the organization because it allows him to be active while helping people and being around other people.

“You would think that being on a build it would be stressful,” Buckner said, adding that it really is not. “I’m the kind of person that likes to be active. I love doing stuff, I love that part of it, especially the people. Plus, you’re helping people in need.”

Though Mayer originally went on the trip to accompany his stepson, he said he would definitely go back.

“It’s an amazing, unfolding story. They have about 400 to 500 houses they’re planning on building. But they keep pecking at it and they’ll do it,” he said.

Volunteers participating in global builds pay a registration fee which covers everything except for airfare and any extra spending money, Danel said.

“It covers lodging for the week, security because we go into some pretty dangerous areas,” Danel said. “Plus a small donation amount for tools and materials that we use on the worksite.”

Those interested in participating with other global builds in countries such as el Salvador, Haiti, Nepal and Amenia can sign up through the Fuller Center’s website at https://fullercenter.org/global-builders.
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