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Australian Global Village Volunteers Put Their Faith Into Action in Vanuatu

March 27, 2005

A Chance To See Poverty Housing Up Close & Personal

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Faith in action: Team leader Shauna Wood (left), JoAnn Walker and Lolly Fernandez pour grout on top of rebar that sits in the blocks.

PORT VILA, 27th March 2005: Though Shauna Wood is marketing manager for Habitat for Humanity Australia, working in an office in Sydney is only one way she serves Habitat’s mission of eliminating poverty housing worldwide.

Recently, Shauna rolled up her sleeves and led four other Australian women and one man for a Global Village build in the small South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Working in Vanuatu was a great chance for Shauna to put her faith into action. “I was glad the team members were all Christians as it meant everyone was looking at the greater purpose of us being there. Helping others less fortunate is, I think, what Christianity is all about and makes you feel good and gets your mind off yourself.”

Helping the poor and looking at the higher purpose in life is what the Global Village Program is all about. Of course, there are many other benefits as well.

“Getting to know the local people in the community was a highlight,” said Shauna. “Sharing their life experiences, their hopes and dreams for a better life and being a small part of assisting those less fortunate than ourselves.

“The Global Village program offers an experience that money can’t buy. You get off the beaten track and see what a country is really like, met people you wouldn’t normally come in contact with and get to know them. It was a very humbling experience and it makes you appreciate what you have at home.”

In particular, members of Shauna’s team, most of whom were members of Hillsong Church in Sydney, got a close of view of poverty housing in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital.

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Keeping costs down: volunteers Lolly Fernandez and Mark Andrews (center) make concrete blocks to be used on the house with home partner Mark Kalfau

For some of the volunteers, it was shocking to see the corrugated iron dwellings that many people are forced to live in Port Vila. Blazing hot in summer, often infested by insects and other vermin, these shanty town dwellings can cost as much as $50 Australian per month in rent. Usually, they do not have a toilet or any bathing facilities, but sometimes there is a communal toilet that might be used by as many by dozens of families.

Tom Hayes, HFH Vanuatu Global Village national co-ordinator, said the housing problem in Vila is worsening.

“Port Vila, with a population of about 40,000, may seem a small community in comparison to large urban centers like Sydney,” he said. “It might be hard to imagine that there could be such a shocking housing problem.”

Substandard, ramshackle housing is spreading throughout the town as people flock to Port Vila from the outer islands of Vanuatu in search of work and a better way of life. Government estimates show that the population of the city should double within the next 20 years and nothing is being done to provide adequate infrastructure for the new arrivals.

New job creation in the city is not happening, and it is common to see young people hanging out with nothing to do. Many families cannot afford school fees for anything beyond primary education, so, even though some modern industrialized countries are sending spacecraft to Mars, a sixth grade education is still the norm in Vila. Teen pregnancy is a growing problem that only perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

Vanuatu is small country with growing problems. That’s why Habitat’s work here is so important. One of the main reasons Shauna said her team wanted to work in Vanuatu was to support Habitat’s effort, which has expanded in the last year to include a building center and an innovative new building in stages program in partnership with Vanwods microfinance corporation.

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Illuminating: Mark Andrews and Habitat home partner Lucy Kalfau keep production rolling

HFH Vanuatu’s building center director Mark Lani, a Ni-Vanuatuan who has worked in the building industry all of his adult life, explains the center’s philosophy succinctly. It’s the old story of teaching a person to fish, not just giving him a fish.

“It takes a long time and costs a lot of money for Habitat to build a house for one person,” Lani said, noting that the cost of materials in Vanuatu is generally two or three times what Habitat normally pays in other countries. “So instead of just building houses, we will train others, so they can build their own houses at a pace that they can afford.

“If we teach 10 or 20 people and everyone starts building their own house, then that’s 10 or 20 times the number of houses that Habitat can build.”

In a country like Vanuatu, Global Village volunteers like Shauna Wood and her team are making a big difference in a small way, one brick at a time.

One brick at a time may not seem like much, but for some people, the smallest gesture of help and goodwill can be like the trickling brook that becomes a creek and then a mighty river of change. Home partner Lucy Kalfau never imagined that someone living far away in Australia would take an interest in her or her family’s plight.

“For me, it was a light illuminating my life,” she said.

Now Lucy, Mark, her husband, and two boys will have a roof over their heads and a decent shelter in which to live. Not only that, a cultural gap has been bridged through the tools of goodwill and caring that the Hillsong Global Village team brought with it to Vanuatu.