When Jeff Aultman (I.T. Manufacturing Systems) signed up for an ArcelorMittal Solidarity Holiday, he didn’t realize what a big impact it would have on both his life and the lives of others. “It was an experience I will never forget,” says Jeff.

Jeff didn’t know what to expect when he heard he had been selected out of hundreds of applicants to join a team of eight international volunteers to build a new school for children living near ArcelorMittal’s facilities in Buchanan, Liberia. Before the volunteers arrived, 300 students aged five to 14 attended school in a cramped, small house with inadequate classrooms and poor sanitation. In just two months, the children received a new building, four times the size of their old school and equipped with teaching tools like blackboards. It took a huge team effort shared between the eight volunteers and 45 local ArcelorMittal Liberia employees.

“It was hard work! Concrete didn’t come in cement trucks, not in Liberia. It was all made by hand {or should I say by shovel}. We made concrete, put up ceilings, constructed blackboard frames, installed flooring and plastered walls,” adds Jeff. “While we worked it was a great opportunity to talk and find out about people, their families, their kids and their interests. I was impressed, not only with the team’s work ethic, but I felt there was a strong desire we all shared to make things better.”

It wasn’t all hard work though. The volunteers met the excited students, tested their balloon-making and juggling skills and played sports with the older kids. Meanwhile, three other volunteers with medical experience performed eye tests, issued more than 650 glasses and provided dental hygiene services.

“I tell people it’s a very poor country, but I also say that it is rich with the desire to improve. I saw such enthusiasm in the children for the new school!” During the evenings, the volunteers and local employees had time to reflect on the bigger picture and discuss how they felt about the project.

“An ArcelorMittal Liberia co-worker told us that the local people will remember that we came as friends and colleagues from different countries to help them. We came to lend a hand when help was needed. Meeting people from far-away countries is a life-changing experience for them.”

At the end of the week-long Solidarity Holiday, the students and volunteers gathered to celebrate the opening of the school with a special ceremony. The children sang, danced and presented certificates of thanks to the volunteers. In return, the team gave the students toys, candies, shoes, paper, crayons and a world map.

Now back home in Canada, Jeff has had time to think about his experience and share it with friends, co-workers and family. “I have always known that I am fortunate, but to know through life-experience is really ‘knowing.’ I’m proud to be associated with the efforts taking place in Liberia.