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Habitat Continues To Transform Lives and Communities In Papua New Guinea

Permanent Secure Homes Brighten Children’s Future, Help Quell Clan Conflicts And Instill Community Pride

PORT MORESBY, 3rd April 2007: For more than two decades, Habitat for Humanity has been building safe, decent and affordable homes in Papua New Guinea, and the benefits are increasingly clear to Habitat home partners and communities.

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Bright future: Villagers in traditional tribal costume in front of a model Habitat home in Moyam, Central District, Western Highlands.

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Secure: Mike Bondeng, 29, Habitat district coordinator and Habitat home-owner with one of his daughters in front of his house in Busu village, Nawaeb District, Morobe province.

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Habitat homes help schooling: St Mark’s Komkui community school, Moyam, Central District, Western Highlands.

Possibly the most significant benefit is peace. Habitat homes can help to quell clan conflicts. According to Samuel Rumints, chairman of the executive board of the Habitat for Humanity’s Western Highlands affiliate, the Habitat program “kills two birds with one stone: it provides affordable houses and prevents tribal fighting”.

“When people have a good house, they don’t want to fight. This housing program will change the thinking of the people,” added Nathan Wantape, chairman of finance in the Western Highlands’ provincial government.

Tribal fighting in the Nebilyer valley, in the Western Highlands province, has been a frequent occurrence in the past 27 years. Police intervention has not been effective but Rumints believed the people with permanent Habitat houses will not risk losing their new homes by joining in clan conflicts. “Habitat will give them a baby to look after,” he said.

Among the more conventional benefits are the time and money Habitat home partner families save from not having to rebuild or repair traditional houses. Traditional Papua New Guinea homes, made of increasingly scarce bush materials, have to be replaced every three to four years due to damage from tropical storms or clan conflicts. Constant maintenance needed for leaking grass roofs is also a drain on families’ limited resources.

“I feel comfortable and secure in my new house. It doesn’t leak like my old one. I can now concentrate on generating income rather than on shelter, said Sana Titus, a 51-year-old widow, who shares her three-bedroom Habitat home with her three sons and three young grandchildren in the northern coastal Morobe province. Sana grows the cash crop, betel nut.

Solid Habitat homes made of brick or timber also mean marked improvements in personal safety and health. Cooking in a traditional home made of easily flammable materials poses a fire hazard. The build up of smoke indoors also leads to respiratory problems.

 In contrast, Habitat homes incorporate features to improve health. For example, sealing windows with mosquito gauze helps to prevent malaria. Malaria can affect an entire family, as in the case of Gile Manikora, 52, whose extended family of 14 members all contracted malaria while they were living in their traditional house.

Security is provided by way of solid doors with locks that not only keep strangers out, but also give extended families their first taste of privacy.

Children also enjoy a more conducive environment to study in. Habitat home partner Mike Bondeng, 29, said: “My daughters now have a proper place to study where they can be comfortable and secure.” Bondeng, who is also a Habitat coordinator, lives with his family in Nawaeb district in Morobe province.

Bisebmong, who is in his 60s, echoed Bondeng’s sentiment. “My grandchildren are happy because it helps their education. They can study better.” He lives in the Finisterre Mountains in Morobe province with his wife, two sons and three grandchildren.

Habitat homes have also come to symbolize hope and pride in Papua New Guinea communities. For employees of the state telecoms firm Telikom, home ownership was a castle in the air until Habitat came into the picture. In Madang province on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, 11 families of Telikom staff will receive Habitat homes. “Here in PNG, even a secure job is no guarantee of a permanent home,” said Mike Yandit, district manager of Telikom Madang. “Many Telikom employees are forced to live in settlements and pay large rents for poor housing. To own their homes is a dream.”

At 30,000 kina (about US$10,125), a three-bedroom home that comprises kitchen, living area and bathroom is only one-third to half of the market price.

The joy of having their dreams come true was evident on house dedication day for the Telikom project in Madang in late February 2007. Six Habitat home partners received keys to their turquoise stilt houses amid the fanfare of speeches, prayers and music, permeated by the aroma of pigs being roasted for the occasion.

Admiring their new kitchen and living room, home partner Paul Wulbou said: “Here we can look forward to a bright and stable future. This is the beginning of our new life.”

Dedication day is also a time where the bulk of payments are collected. A Save & Build microfinance scheme is used in Papua New Guinea where savings groups comprising 10 members each are formed. When a group has saved 50 per cent of the cost of a house, which can range from 3,000 to 5,500 kina in the northern coastal Morobe province, Habitat matches the remaining cost and building begins. The savings cycle continues until each member has received his or her house.

On dedication day, guests from the surrounding communities will usually contribute cash, making up a substantial portion of payments. Through the Save & Build scheme, communities are also strengthened, said Simon Las, Habitat coordinator in the Central district of Western Highlands province. Villagers are motivated to be more productive, in order to first save up for a Habitat house and later to live up to their new status as permanent home owners, Las said.

As in other parts of the world, Habitat’s work in Papua New Guinea is boosted by like-minded partners. In the northern coastal Madang province, Habitat is collaborating with Telekom on an 11-house project for employees of the state telecoms firm. In addition to providing low-interest loans, Telekom supplied land, a valuable commodity since 80 per cent of land in Papua New Guinea is owned by clans. Habitat provided materials such as cement, glass and roofing materials in exchange for timber contributed by other villagers in Madang. Habitat also provided sawmill services and volunteer carpenters for house construction. “Telikom is very happy to work with Habitat,” said Mike Yandit, district manager of Telikom Madang. “This is an example of what partnerships can achieve.”

Other Habitat partners in Papua New Guinea include Community Development Scheme (CDS) and the Western Highlands provincial government. CDS is a joint scheme between the Papua New Guinea and Australia governments that assists non-governmental organizations and church groups with capacity building. Habitat first received funding from CDS in 2005 through the AusAID special partner program in Kainantu district, Eastern Highlands province. That grant was for training and community awareness in three affiliates. Currently, CDS is funding two sawmills and providing counterpart funding for 15 Habitat houses. Referring to Habitat’s system of rollover funds, Francis Kup, regional manager for CDS in the Highlands, said: “This is an excellent method of self-sustaining and expanding.”

Habitat’s ability to meet the housing needs of Papua New Guinea is also appreciated by the provincial government in the Western Highlands. In 2006, the provincial government committed 150,000 kina to Habitat mainly for administrative needs. Some 100,000 kina has been disbursed as well as two vehicles.

Nathan Wantape, chairman of finance in the Western Highlands’ provincial government, said: “The government does not have the resources to build individual homes. The government is here to help Habitat. With Habitat here, we don’t have to create another housing program.” Reaffirming the provincial government’s commitment, Wantape said: “We are happy to assist Habitat in any way we can. Our budget to Habitat is part of our program budget. It will be there every year. It will not be cut.”