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Habitat for Humanity-Vanwoods Micro-finance Partnership in Vanuatu * * * *Chipping Away at Foundations of Poverty Housing in High-cost Pacific Nation

June 1, 2005

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A new extension: Helen Lesly (left) with HFH Vanuatu staffers Mark Lani and Vivian Licht stand on a coral and sand flooring packed on top of the foundations up to the first row of blocks on Lesley’s house extension.

 

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Starting at the bottom: Leiser Homu and her uncle, Mark, inspect the foundation trench for her new home prior to pouring concrete and building block walls.

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Learning to keep down costs: a member of Helen Lesly’s family makes a concrete interlocking block for the home with Habitat trainer, Diane Sam (right).

PORT VILA, 1st June 2005: For years, Leiser Homu has wanted to own a new home, but with Vanuatu’s expensive housing construction costs, she doubted she would ever be able to. With a bag of cement or a concrete block costing as much as three times more in the south Pacific Island nation than elsewhere in the developing world, owning a decent home seemed an impossible dream.

But that was before Leiser heard about an innovative new partnership program between Habitat for Humanity Vanuatu and Vanwoods Microfinance Inc. that allows Vanwoods savings partners to build their homes in stages or complete necessary home renovations like roof repairs.

The approach is simple: Vanwods has the financial expertise so provides the loans and collects repayments; Habitat knows how to build houses so handles the construction.

A program pilot is currently underway in the Mele Maat community, near the capital, Port Vila.

“It’s an opportunity to have a home that I couldn’t have in any other way,” said Leiser.

Under the program, Vanwoods savings partners are able to borrow up to 50,000 Vatu (about US$500) for home improvements, renovations or building in stages. After this money is repaid, they can borrow additional funds should they choose to do so. Because Leiser and her family are providing their own sand and coral for construction, they will need a smaller loan as their construction costs will be lower.

HFH Vanuatu’s skilled construction teams provide the technical expertise necessary for the projects, while at the same time training Vanwoods partners and their families in home construction techniques, such as how to lay foundations, put on roofs, and how to make concrete interlocking blocks (CIB), a cost-efficient technology HFH Vanuatu recently imported from the Philippines.

Leiser, who is building her home in stages, hopes to finish the foundations with her loan and build the external wall to a height of about five feet. Because her family is providing much of its own materials, she should be able to finish her home in a couple of years … loan by loan, brick by brick.

For most program participants, the financial burden of the Vanwoods loans is easily manageable. Leiser re-pays 3,000 Vatu each week. Another partner, Helen Lesly, says she will be making weekly repayments of 1,800 Vatu on her 30,000 Vatu loan through the sale of gateaux (cake) and other baked goods through which she earns on average about 800 Vatu a day.

Helen is adding an addition to her home that will nearly double the current size. She also is providing her own coral, sand and a couple of dozen hollow concrete blocks that she had left over from previous construction. These hollow concrete blocks can easily be integrated with CIB technology.

“Someday we also want to be able to add a toilet with a bathroom,” she said.

Loucine Hayes, HFH Vanuatu national director, said innovative funding initiatives like the Vanwoods partnership are the future for Habitat.

Traditional no-interest Habitat loans for the construction of a full house can be replaced or supplemented by programs focusing on building houses in stages, renovations, home improvements and Habitat’s own Save & Build program, she said

Under the Habitat Save & Build program, homeowners form a savings co-operative. Once the group has saved sufficient for one house, Habitat provides matching loans for two further houses. Building commences. Save & Build partners are financially responsible to see that group members repay their loans, and loan repayments are then used to help fund new homes for other needy families.

“This is in line with Habitat’s philosophy of ‘a hand-up, not a handout’,” Hayes said.

Two Save & Build homes have already been completed in Vanuatu and others are planned.

Building capacity among Habitat home partners is another way of increasing personal responsibility. All Habitat programs focus on construction skills training for home partner families as a means of eliminating housing poverty and as a way to generate sustainable income.

About 45 people have been trained in the Mele Maat community thus far as part of the HFH Vanuatu-Vanwoods project. Mark Homu, Leiser Homu’s uncle, was one of those trained.

“All the young people in Mele Maat who came and took the training were so very happy,” he noted. “Everyday they would come with smiles on their faces because they knew they were learning something good and useful.”

HFH Vanuatu has thus far trained more than 200 people at its building centers in Tagabe and on Santo Island.

To date, HFH Vanuatu has built 25 homes, plus the three homes with Vanwods. HFH Vanuatu has helped though over 250 families through various projects.