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Habitat for Humanity Starts New Project - 2002-08-14

The dream of owning a home has become a reality for tens of thousands of families around the world, thanks to the U.S.-based Christian organization, Habitat for Humanity. Since 1976, Habitat volunteers have constructed 100,000 homes for the poor in 85 countries. At last year's 25th anniversary celebration, ministry officials announced an ambitious goal: to build another 100,000 homes before the group's 30th anniversary in 2006. Habitat's directors have begun a new project they hope will help them reach that goal.

About 20 young people are bustling around a run-down warehouse on an overgrown lot just a few blocks from Habitat for Humanity headquarters. The team of volunteers, all from Jacksonville, Florida, will spend the next two weeks making mud bricks with nothing more than hand tools.

"We've got Leslie here, who's sifting the clay and you take the sifted clay and dump it out here on the ground and mix it with concrete," team leader Danny Locke explained. "Here is the mixture of concrete; blending it all together with rakes, and then they're sprinkling it down with some water, putting it in molds, and then actually pressing the blocks. They told us today that actually two people could do an entire house-worth of blocks in two weeks. It's interesting."

The bricks will be used in the construction of about four dozen homes on this and adjoining lots. Unlike most Habitat for Humanity homes, these won't house families. They will be part of a project called "The Global Village and Museum." Ministry founder Millard Fuller says the exhibit will help visitors to Habitat headquarters better understand the worldwide need for safe, affordable housing.

"This will be, in effect, a little microcosm of the world. We will have slum areas reproduced; houses like people are living in, in miserable conditions," he said. "And then about 45 houses, exact replicas of the kinds of houses we're building in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India, other Asian countries, Europe."

During the ground-breaking ceremonies, longtime Habitat spokesman, former President Jimmy Carter, explained that the Global Village would allow the average American a taste of life in the developing world without ever leaving the country.

"I think most of the people in this country who look at Habitat for Humanity with great admiration and a sense of wonder at its contributions, will now have a chance to see personally what housing was like, and also what Habitat has contributed to give those people a better sense of what a dwelling should be," Mr. Carter said. "So I think it will be a great educational program for the tens of thousands of new visitors who will come to Americus to see this particular sight."

Habitat has made a science of matching the kind of home built in each country to local conditions and materials. Construction supervisor Wayne Nelson says all those types of construction will be on display at the Global Village.

"Some of them will be as we build in Papua, New Guinea a wood frame structure that's raised on poles off the ground. Most of the world lives in masonry structures, and there'll be a variety, adobe bricks that we would build with, that wouldn't have any cement in them, " Mr. Nelson said. "The compressed earth block is probably the next more expensive method, because we use a reduced amount of cement in it than what a concrete block would have. Other homes here will be of concrete block, which is pretty standard as the block we build with here in the States. Other structures here will have fired clay brick, and fired clay roof tiles. Some of them will have concrete roof tiles, and others will have metal roofing."

Mr. Nelson says visitors to the Habitat Global Village will get a real hands-on experience. In some respects, perhaps a little too real.

"Don't know if we'll have a composting toilet like this one that they'll be able to use, but we may even get permission for that, if they want to use the toilet like other countries," he said. "There'll be some cooking going on; we'll probably have the solar cooker out there; block making, the sawmill, all those activities. We'll have people dressed in costume here, and you'll hear local language and local sounds as you go through the village, and you'll learn what life is like for these families. It will be a good opportunity for folks to really just see what Habitat's work is about in other countries and get involved in it."

As the volunteers from Jacksonville continue to churn out mud bricks, Danny Locke says he thinks the Global Village can only strengthen a renewed interest among Americans in compassionate service.

"With the tragedy on September 11, I think more Americans are starting to become aware. And me in my personal life, things that used to be a big deal to folks are just not quite a big deal anymore. We're getting more volunteers. We're getting a tremendous amount of volunteers now more than we used to that are just wanting to be involved. When you see these homeowners get their keys, and what a blessing it is to them and their family; if it doesn't do something for you, you need to step back and re-evaluate yourself."

The grand opening for Habitat's Global Village and Museum is set for early December.