In the small Zambian village of Kawama, sisters Chaka and Stella live with their grandparents in a small home, without running water or power. Their parents lost their lives to AIDS and the children have few possessions of their own. But they’re still grateful because they have a home — built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers, including Julia Roether, a Southern California Edison (SCE) employee.

Chaka and Stella know little English, but learned the “Star-Spangled Banner” and sang it with pride. Every night, they wrote Roether letters — usually on pieces of trash.

“It’s those type of experiences you only get by being embedded in the culture and community,” Roether said. “You leave with a new perspective on life and what’s important.”

Roether has always loved to travel and volunteer. In 2004, she found a way to do both when she discovered Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, where volunteers build homes internationally in underserved communities. Roether has built homes in Kyrgyzstan, Honduras and Zambia.

“Through Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program, volunteers can help change the world by contributing to Habitat's work and helping eradicate poverty housing,” said Rose Morgan, Habitat for Humanity International's associate director of international volunteer programs. “Thanks to volunteers like Julia, Habitat homeowners can have a decent, safe place to live and raise families.”

“She’s the only person I know who goes to hardware stores as part of vacation planning,” said Poloi Lin, a longtime friend and co-worker.

On her Zambia trip, Roether helped her team build almost two complete homes in two weeks. The homes were simple shelters, but were life-changing for the families. Bricks were formed by hand and the entire village was built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Thanks to the volunteers, families in the village went from living in stick huts to a home with windows, walls and a door they could lock.

“When we handed the key to the family, they broke into tears of joy,” said Roether. “This house that we built together represents a better life for them and their children.”

Her volunteer time isn’t limited to foreign countries. Roether has already logged 265 volunteer hours over the last two years at SCE. In March, she joined a team of co-workers to help build a home in Lynwood, California. The Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles build was funded in part by Edison International.

“I enjoy being able to see how my time and money is being put to use,” she said. “Building homes for deserving families gives me that opportunity, and it’s awesome that I can do it alongside my co-workers and while seeing the world.”