Habitat for Humanity

Last Saturday the Overseas Women’s Club organized a BUILD with Habitat for Humanity. HFH is an international organization that I’ve heard of many times, so I was thrilled to be able to volunteer for a day and help build houses with local Indian families. Michael wanted to join in and help and so did my brother Steve who is visiting for a couple weeks.

So we put on our work boots and work gloves and drove to north Bangalore. We weren’t really given an address, just the village. Our only indication that we were in the right place was when we saw a bunch of white women standing on the side of the road.

Twenty-eight women and family members came together to volunteer their time, strength and camaraderie. We were greeted by Nirmala and the Habitat team who explained the goals and ideals behind Habitat for Humanity, the work they do worldwide, and in India.

Habitat for Humanity International is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to eliminate poverty housing. Habitat India commenced in 1983 and has built and repaired more than 29,000 homes. Habitat is not a hand-out, but a hand-up program. Low income families must repay a no-profit loan to Habitat and “contribute own sweat equity (shramadhana) towards unskilled labour.”

Volunteers are an important part of the Habitat campaign. Volunteers from all walks of life are encouraged to contribute to these BUILD projects and advocate for “an India where every citizen has a right to decent and simple housing.”

Nirmala asked us to form four groups and each group set off to work on a different home. Actually, she singled out the guys and told them to form the “digging” group. There may have been a little good-hearted grumbling (something about sexism) but they set off to their worksite with picks and shovels in hand.

Each of the four homes were at different stages and everyone worked hard digging, hauling dirt or cement, or laying bricks. The home owners worked alongside of us and it was rewarding to work with each other and see the progress over the day.

During our lunch break Nirmala had some words of wisdom. She acknowledged that each of us could easily have paid a local 200Rp to do the work that we did. But she assured us that our time was as valuable to the community as our labour was. It showed the community that we valued them as people and cared enough to come and help. Not only that but each of us will share our experience with others and create awareness.

The teams bonded with each other, interacted with the homeowners and the curious local children. Everyone was eager to help out and it was hard to say goodbye. At the end of the day, we were all enriched by the experience organized by Habitat for Humanity and the Overseas Women’s Group.

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