IN the small mud building, baking hot in the equatorial heat beneath a corrugated metal roof, ten old armchairs had been placed at the front of the congregation.

Hymns were accompanied by music played on an old keyboard run on power from a car battery and readings were taken from two King James Bibles held together with duct tape.

This was Sunday service in the village of Myanga, near Bungoma, in Kenya, a day's ride to the west of Nairobi, and the armchairs were in honour of the visitors from England who had come to help build a house in the village.

It is a long way from the lush green of the New Forest to the sun-baked earth of parts of Kenya, but the distance is merely physical, as the group of volunteers from Hampshire and Wiltshire sitting in the armchairs, joining in the church service, were discovering.

"The love and friendship shown to us by the Kenyans was just unbelievable," says Mike Williamson.

"They are amazingly welcoming happy people.

"They had almost nothing materially in our terms, but somehow they were richer for it.

"They value community, their families, and helping each other.

"It's a way of life we've lost."

Mike (63) and his wife Angela (58) were among a team of ten people, who travelled the 4,500 miles from England to Kenya in July last year to help a family there build a new house. The trip was organised by international non-denominational Christian charity Habitat for Humanity, which is dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide.

Mike and Angela, who live in Downton, heard about the charity's work at a meeting in Whitsbury village hall, in spring 2004.

Although many of those present at the meeting were keen to support the charity's work, a small group of about 15, drawn from Rockbourne, Whitsbury, Alderholt and Downton, decided that they would like to go one step further and volunteer as a working party to undertake one of Habitat for Humanity's many building programmes. Their group elected to go to Kenya and em-barked on a fundraising year through sponsored events, auction of promises, Burns Nights, carol-singing and more to make the trip possible. "We all wanted to do something for a third world country that was physical, not just writing a cheque," says Mike. One of the group, David Tomkins, went on a group leader course and, just over a year later, the group by now down to ten took off from London and landed in Nairobi on a cold, damp morning. A day's driving on roads that ranged from good to rough took them via the Rift Valley to the fertile land of western Kenya, near the Ugandan border, with its red soil, maize, sugar cane, acacias and mangoes.

Most people there are subsistance farmers, living in grass-thatched, mud-walled, single-roomed homes.

Habitat for Humanity has affiliates in different parts of the country, which encourage those who want to improve their living conditions to invest many hours of their own labour what the charity calls "sweat-equity" into building their own home and the homes of other families.

This, the charity says, fosters community development, increases pride of ownership and reduces the cost of labour.

Once the homes are complete, the homeowners make interest-free mortgage payments to a revolving fund, which is then used to build more houses.

Volunteer help, from the local community and from groups such as Mike's and Angela's, help reduce the cost of building further. "We were based at a school for physically handicapped children," says Angela. The men slept in the school room and the women in the house of the school's administrator." First thing in the morning, they all piled into a matatu (public taxi) an ancient Toyota minibus and were driven to the building site. The footings and a pit latrine were already in place and the team set to work.

"We were building a house for a lovely gentleman called Fred Wabwile and his wife, Mary the most loveable people I've ever come across," says Mike warmly.

"They were hospitable, hardworking and intelligent and liked to laugh."

Every build has to have a qualified builder, or fundi, directing the operation.

"As it happened, Fred was our fundi and, quite shyly at first, told us what to do," says Mike.

"It was hot, hard work but thoroughly enjoyable and very satisfying."

Without electricity or running water and using only non-power and sometimes rudimentary tools, a house took shape.

"We were very much navvies," says Angela while Fred and his brothers and other family members provided the rest of the skilled and unskilled labour."We started at a brisk pace, carrying stones, wheeling sand, mixing cement, stamping down the surface using hands, feet, shovels and two very battered wheelbarrows."

As the week wore on, the walls grew higher, doors and windows appeared and roof timbers were constructed.

By the second week, the timbers were coated with engine oil against termites, the metal roof was in place and plaster was applied to the inside walls of the largest of the single-storey house's three rooms.

"We all felt immensely proud of the house, the fundi, our Kenyan workmates and ourselves!" the Williamsons later wrote in a newsletter home.

But it was the friendships forged as well as the bricks and mortar laid that provided the lasting memories.

"It's life-changing I looked at western Europe through African eyes and saw nothing but greed," says Mike.

"It made me very ashamed of wastage of life we lead over here."

Everyone spoke English but the younger members of the group, 16-year-old visitors Simon Tomkins and Josh Cleallfound another universal language football, which they played with their African counterparts while their exhausted parents recuperated in the shade.

"I spent a lot of time with people my own age," says Simon, now 17. "It opened my eyes. Now I want to go back to Kenya in my gap year, either in a Habitat for Humanity team or as a teacher, just so I can see people as I did then, not just as a tourist.

"When we landed back in England, the contrast was just huge, like going forward in time.

"I thought it would change my outlook, and it has.

"I was determined I would never want anything more or better than I already had it worked for a few days, but you find yourself slipping back."

The Williamsons will be giving an illustrated talk on their time in Kenya to the Friends of Downton Moot at Downton Baptist Hall, South Lane, at 7.30pm on March 11. Tickets are £7, to include a glass of wine.

If any church group or other organisation would be interested in hearing about the trip and the work of Habitat for Humanity, please call Mike Williamson, on 01725 512165.

Habitat for Humanity has a website, which is linked below.