Flying high the flag for Habitat Young Leaders Build

Winning flag design’s message of doing good resonated in Fiji

MANILA (April 29, 2016) – Shota Taguchi would be happy to learn that his winning flag design for the Habitat Young Leaders Build campaign fulfilled its purpose. The 22-year-old undergraduate at Aoyama Gakuin University was prompted to design something simple that could be understood by anyone who saw it.

“Housing issues due to poverty and disasters are serious, but for most people it may be difficult to take action. I wanted to deliver a message that to take an action is not so difficult. Any good deed for the sake of others can change the world,” said Shota who received a Samsung Galaxy S2 tablet for his simple, striking design which includes flowers.

Shota is a member of the Habitat for Humanity campus chapter in his university and his inspiration for the design came from a fundraising effort in 2012. The campus chapter had raised money to buy seeds for flowering plants so that conflict-torn families may grow the plants around their houses in eastern Sri Lanka. “Due to the long civil war, I heard that many people were traumatized in Mannar. We wanted to ease their feelings, by sending them flowers. It may be a simple thing like sending flowers to care for somebody,” said Shota who had gone on several Habitat builds including a recent one in the Philippines this year.

Miles away, his message resonated with Fijian youth volunteers who helped Habitat to pack emergency shelter kits for families affected by February 2016’s Cyclone Winston. In April, the HYLB flag was passed around the volunteers who included the St Vincent de Paul youth group. Earlier, a team of eight volunteers from Methodist Church of Fiji worked hard to pack materials such as tarpaulin sheets and construction tools into kits that were distributed to cyclone survivors in Tailevu province, an hour’s drive from the capital Suva.

Speaking on behalf of his fellow volunteers, Maravu Naivalu, 23, said: “Our people need houses. We understand their pain and we are here to help. Sometimes the youth don’t realize that a little help actually goes a long way. I am more than happy to devote my time to the families who are in need of shelter.”

Their labor paid off when the sight of the emergency shelter kits brought a smile to Makareta Bale who had hoped for tarpaulin sheets. “I have found walls for my kitchen,” a cheerful Makareta said after receiving an emergency shelter kit. The mother of seven used to spend most of her day cooking and feeding her family. “The strong wind blew away the whole kitchen. The roof and the walls were all gone. Only the sink area and the floor were left,” said the 35-year-old housewife. With tin sheets that were salvaged, her family put up a temporary roof but they could not find anything for the walls until Habitat distributed the kits in Nasinu village on March 10.

For Manoa Vakasilimi, a 46-year-old village elder in Nasinu, his main concern was the children. “Our houses have been blown away and damaged but one of the key things to fix first is to build a place where the children can study,” he said. A church building became a shelter for the villagers but it was not conducive for students. “That is where people sleep at night and it gets very crowded. Our children have no place to study and do their homework and this bothers me.”

The emergency shelter and community tool kits distributed by Habitat provided a solution. A skilled carpenter, Manoa intended to gather the men in the village to repair a damaged hall and turn it into a study area for the children.

Manoa firmly believed in the value of education. “If one is not educated well, then it is very hard to survive in this world. We want to give a good life to our children. To make sure that they are well educated is our responsibility,” he said.

Just as the village elder was prompted to act, Sainivalati Ravula, 24, was motivated to help. “We in Suva are more fortunate than those severely affected in other parts of the country. We can make a difference. There is a great blessing and satisfaction in doing volunteer work.

“The youth hold back a lot when it comes to doing something good like this. I would like to tell them, ‘Please don’t think twice. You must make the most, when such opportunities are given and volunteer work does not come at a cost,’ ” said Sainivalati.

Fellow volunteer Sakaraia Rokoua, 20, he liked the camaraderie. “It is nice to meet other volunteers, especially from other countries. They came from so far away to help us Fijians so why can’t we do our bit as Fijians.”

In Japan, Shota and his friends did their part by raising funds for the Habitat Young Leaders Build. Calling themselves “Beyond”, they organized a charity concert on February 29 and March 1 as well as a fundraising marathon relay on March 21.

Going back to the message conveyed in his flag design, Shota said: “A home means a place to start. My home is where I grew up, and it made me who I am today. Having time for reflection, and concentrating on my studies — I could do that because I had a home that protects my privacy, and provides me a place to relax. Home is what makes you who you are.”

The importance of having a decent place to live underpinned the efforts of Habitat Young Leaders Build supporters in 16 countries and a Special Administrative Region. By the time the campaign peaked on April 2, more than one million people showed support through home construction, neighborhood clean-up, road shows, fundraisers, advocacy grant awards, the online flag design competition and a Twitter party. Supporters included Asian celebrities who rallied others with a video.