Habitat for Humanity’s “Global BUILD” Brings International Volunteers To Build With Slum Resettlement Families In Delhi, India

Volunteers Will Spend Time With Families After Build To Mark United Nations’ World Habitat Day

DELHI, 3rd October 2008: More than 70 volunteers are in India this week to help build 14 homes with people of Bhalaswa, a resettlement colony in northwest Delhi, under a project organized by Habitat for Humanity India.

Inauguration: Oscar Fernandes, Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, lighting a ceremonial lamp. Next to him Mahesh Lobo, HFH India’s director of program development.

United nations: The volunteers come from USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Australia, Singapore and India.

Symbolic: A home partner mixes water with soil to represent the integration of different cultures during the build.

Different strokes: A home as a child sees it.

The volunteers are participating in Global BUILD, a signature week-long event that started on 29th September and will end by marking the United Nations’ designated World Habitat Day on 6th October. The event aims to draw global attention to the issues of inadequate housing, and what these mean for the people of Bhalaswa and India as a whole.

With some as young as 20 and others at a more mature 70, the volunteers hail from USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Australia and Singapore. They have taken time off from their day jobs as yoga instructors, or doctors or video producers or bankers to build with Habitat. The overseas volunteers are joined by those from India who are eager to do their part for their fellow countrymen.

Habitat for Humanity India’s Global BUILD was inaugurated by Oscar Fernandes, Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Government of India. Fernandes had begun volunteering in 1973 by building houses for the poor. Given his own volunteering experience, he was appreciative of Habitat for Humanity India’s efforts in mobilizing the international teams.

Vincent Thakur, director of Habitat for Humanity’s Delhi resource center, added: “There is a greater need for private-public partnerships to mitigating the sufferings for the marginalized members of our society. Housing is one of the three basic necessities of every human being, and a fundamental right of every citizen of India and only when people and government come together can the dreams of the homeless be fulfilled.”

“Inadequate housing has a terrible impact on the livelihoods of families,” said Felix Fernandes, managing director of Habitat for Humanity India. “Through bringing volunteers round the world, we want to highlight to the people of Bhalaswa and India that people do care and that there are practical solutions to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

On the first day of the build, representatives from each of the seven countries and a home partner came together to mix soil from their home countries and water together. That symbolized the integration of different cultures in building lives and homes.

For Canadian Timothy Pepper and veteran Habitat volunteer, the Bhalaswa build “has got to be the most difficult build I have ever volunteered for, what with the houses being smack in the middle of an already existing slum”, he told a local newspaper The Indian EXPRESS. A reporter from the newspaper has joined the Global BUILD for a taste of being a Habitat volunteer.

In the eyes of home partner Geeta Devi, the volunteers’ presence means a lot. She told the newspaper: “My roof was leaking and I didn’t know how I was going to build a permanent house. So I’m quite happy that all these people have come to help me build.”

A drawing competition was held on the second day of the build with children from the community joining students from Delhi’s Queen Mary’s School to paint their vision of safe and decent homes. The competition also provided the opportunity for children from different backgrounds to mix and mingle. The judge of the competition was India’s well-known painter, sculptor and poet Jatin Das.

Since 1968, the United Nations has designated the first Monday in October each year as World Habitat Day in order to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter for all. Habitat for Humanity’s theme for this year’s World Habitat Day is secure tenure, highlighting the importance of being able to live in a place without fear of eviction.

On World Habitat Day, the volunteers will spend some time with the families with whom they have been working together with to build the houses. It is a time for the volunteers and the family members to share their experiences and symbolically “dedicate” the house.

Bhalaswa Jhuggi Jhopri colony is situated on northwestern edge of Delhi, surrounded by an overused landfill site, Bhalaswa Dairy and a string of unauthorized colonies. The colony was set up in November 2000 when 526 families were resettled after being evicted from the slum colony on the banks of Yamuna river east of Delhi. Shortly after a year, a further 4,000 families were moved to Bhalaswa from slum clusters located in various areas.

Families were allotted plots of land either: 150 sq. ft or 220 sq. ft but they had to pay 7,000 rupees (about US148) to build their houses. The cost was beyond the reach for most of the families who earned their living mostly as daily wage laborers, and impossible for many. Not only did the families lose their means of livelihood but they also lacked basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation and education.

Before Bhalaswa was designated as a resettlement colony, 5,000 households were living in the area. Now 10,000 families are crammed into the same area. Many people, especially the children and women, suffer water-borne and heat-borne diseases. The families lack safe and decent housing, electricity, proper drainage and sanitary facilities - community toilets are pay-per-use and poorly maintained. The list of woes also includes inaccessibility to health care facilities and education.

In the city of Delhi, Habitat for Humanity India partners with Chetanalaya, the social development wing of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi. Chetanalaya has been working in the slums and resettlement colonies of Delhi and the northern Haryana state for the past 35 years. Habitat has built almost 300 houses with Chetanalaya in a slum called Bawana and now the two organizations have begun working in Bhalaswa. This project aims to enable 100 families to build cost effective houses for displaced families through the self-help groups which are organized by Chetanalaya.