Notes from Batam: Employees Share Their Volunteer Story

Levi Strauss & Co.
December 9, 2016

Recently, 20 employees traveled from Singapore to Batam, Indonesia, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for two days. For the past two years employees have built homes in Batam, coming back more inspired to connect with their community, give back, and support business practices that benefit the underserved.
We asked two participants to share their account of their experience and how it inspired them along the way.
Bagus Prabowo Dewanto
The owners of the home I was assigned to build were named Helmon and Lili. Helmon is a 56-year-old parking attendant who also does odd jobs on the side to try to make ends meet. These all provide him with an unpredictable income to support his stay-at-home wife and young daughter. Although it is a life of hardship for them, we saw only perseverance and appreciation.
For the Helmon family, the house building program is a big deal… for them it is their dream home. The warmth, welcome and hospitality they extended to us was exemplified by their heartfelt gesture of providing us with appetizing dishes from fish curry dishes to famous Sambal Terasi and a selection of fritters during our breaks.
And we needed plenty of fuel for the work we had to undertake. Although we all joined the trip with varying physiques and stamina, it didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that workouts in the gym are no comparison to work on the worksite. We were exposed to a different kind of work than normal, where the sun is scorching and humidity is high. But the hard work never broke our spirit. The atmosphere was fun and we all enjoyed every moment — from finger-twisting footing rebar wiring, to breaking the concrete during foundation digging, to mixing cement. I think it was the vision of a better home for this deserving family and the bond of working together that kept us going throughout the day.
At the end of the two days we were all physically exhausted, but the feeling of accomplishment allowed us to hold our heads up high. I think I can speak for my colleagues when I say that I embarked on this journey with a mindset of helping other people, but it was coming home to my family that taught me the most invaluable lesson of appreciating what you have.
John Prendergast
In July, I relocated from San Francisco to Singapore for work. When moving to a new city in a new country, it’s easy to focus on what’s different from my home country — a new role with a new team, different ways of working, a diverse geography with many cultural nuances — but I am also reminded that the values and culture that LS&Co. instilled in San Francisco, easily translated to life in Singapore.
That includes this team’s commitment to volunteerism and giving back. Our objective for the Batam project was to build two homes for two families. These families survive on less than US $2 a day and lived in houses that were unsafe, especially during the rainy seasons.
When we arrived in Kabil village, we were divided into two groups — one for each house. We worked alongside local laborers and the homeowners to dig holes to lay re-bar, eventually pouring cement that would serve as the foundation.
There were two members of the Levi Strauss & Co. team who spoke Bahasa Indonesia, which meant the rest of us were communicating with hand gestures and singular nouns. But when the foreman’s commands are limited to “dig,” “dig faster,” “take a break” and “nice job,” we bridged the language barrier fairly quickly.
This is the second time I’ve engaged in a multi-day volunteer immersion experience with LS&Co. Each time there are exchanges that prompt me to think about my own education, experiences and opportunities. These are the seeds of empathy — one of our core values.
When we were leaving, both families conveyed a message of thanks, and they hoped we took as much away from the experience as we had given. I would say the answer is a resounding yes.