Last week, I brought home a brand new BMW X5 M, an expensive SUV that’s fast, boastful and made for the wealthy, as evidenced by its twin-turbo V8, alacantara headliner and lavish interior. This is an extravagant luxury car, priced at more than $100,000 and designed to make you feel like a million bucks. And yet, it never really made me feel special during my week with it.
It’s not easy to talk about poverty. Occasionally and when pressed on the subject, my dad opens up about his childhood, about what it’s like growing up as a refugee in the Middle East with no defined country of origin or citizenship. He describes the food rations needed to support his family and neighborhood. He explains how he never saw running hot water or a telephone until he was 20 years old and that he and many others relied on whatever help that the UN or volunteers could spare. It’s a world I will never truly understand, thanks to my dad, but it is one that defined him, because he worked so hard to give himself and his family a better life.
My job at AutoGuide.com can be glamorous at times, but I’d easily wager that there are tons of people who would consider this line of work unimportant.
Automakers know that not everyone cares about cars. With so much going on in the world, having a car is secondary to eating, staying healthy and having a roof over your head. This must be why automakers do so much more than just sell cars; they are global citizens and realize that helping communities in need is part of their responsibility.
Nissan Foundation Canada and Habitat for Humanity, work together to build affordable housing for people in need. They invited me to a home build, and I jumped at the opportunity. Unlike my parents, I never had to rely on the charity of others, but I was always encouraged to help others in need, and this was my chance to help.
Nissan isn’t the only automaker helping those in need. After the floods in Calgary or Hurricane Sandy, automakers donated millions of dollars for relief aid and the cleanup effort. Whenever natural disaster strikes, it seems like the automakers are among the first in line to help out. Take a look at the earthquake and following tsunami in Japan. Toyota and Honda both donated $3.7 million for relief aid, Daimler donated $2.8 million, Hyundai gave $1.3 million. Everyone was willing to help out.
Since the Nissan Canada Foundation started in 2008, employees and dealership staff have volunteered more than 5,550 hours to help build affordable housing in cities across Canada. The foundation is aiming for that total to hit 5,840 hours of work, or about two years of donated time using an eight-hour day.
While I was eager to help, I’ll admit the idea of building a house from scratch seems very daunting. I can barely put together a bookshelf from Ikea without cursing or taking a break to massage my muscles and brain. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one on site with a limited amount of hard-hat experience.
About 20 volunteers showed up and our goal was to raise a few walls on a pair of townhouses. We were split into three groups, one group tasked with cutting wood into precise sizes, another group armed with hammers to nail the lumber together, while a third group measured and fitted pieces, ensuring the house wasn’t lopsided or anything.
I’ll be honest: I woke up with an excessive amount of energy. I’m squarely in the “morning person” camp. I quickly made friends with my fellow volunteers; I figured if I wasn’t going to be able to help with the hard stuff around the site, I could at least be an awesome cheerleader. I learned that a few of my fellow volunteers were from the U.S., some were from Nissan HQ and others were students looking for a way to help out in the community. I quickly named our group Team Titan (after Nissan’s pickup truck) and thanks to our camaraderie and energy, we were put to work hammering some wood together.
The nervous jitters of being discovered for being an inadequate laborer quickly faded away once our team got friendly. We teased each other, then spread the praise on a job well done. Our team mascot even showed up, as a 2016 Nissan Titan XD pulled up on the scene for a promotional video shoot.
Things weren’t quite perfect on site. This being a volunteer operation, some of our equipment was a little shabby. A dull drill-bit, for example, made some operations an exercise in patience, while wood left in the rain ended up a little warped. We made do and didn’t complain.
On site, we made sure to measure the wood a number of times before cutting, although hammering requires another mindset altogether. A few trickier spots required extra care. Interestingly enough, I was asked to take care of that situation. If I split the wood with a careless thrash of the hammer, we’d have to start from the beginning and all our work would go to waste. The pressure was on, and everyone was watching. It was showtime. Thwack-thwack-thwack. The first few hits are gentle and careful. My supervisor nods approvingly. I keep going, harder, a bit faster. Everyone’s holding their breath. I felt like I was defusing a bomb. As I got through the task without a problem, a relieved sigh could be heard from the whole team.
The walls went up with little worry and lots of hustle. This wasn’t the kind of volunteer work you’d associate with free labor. We all broke a sweat building these homes, but we never complained because we knew that these homes were for families and people less fortunate than us.
Thanks to his humble beginnings, my father is always in awe of the lavish vehicles I bring home, often wondering why a car needs to be so excessive. He’s not wrong. After my time volunteering with Nissan Foundation Canada, I truly believe luxury is not found in a cushy vehicle, but in the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping another human being. Helping build homes for people in need made me feel way more special than an expensive car ever could.