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Over 100 Korean Volunteers Helped Build Homes For Former Delhi Slum Dwellers In India

Korean Steel Giant Posco Partly Funded Volunteers For Build In Bawana Colony

DELHI, 13th February 2008: Habitat for Humanity India and partner organization Chetanalaya recently received the enthusiastic help of dozens of South Korean volunteers on a project to build homes for former slum dwellers outside the Indian capital.

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Eager hands: The Korean volunteers forming a line to pass bricks in the Bawana resettlement colony, about 40km. from the Indian capital Delhi.

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New heights: The volunteers also did roofing works on one of the houses.

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Firm friends: Despite not sharing a common language, the Korean volunteers and the families in Bawana have found ways to communicate.

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Some eighty-six Korean university students were joined by other compatriots including staff from HFH Korea and Korean steel-making giant Posco for a week of intense building in Bawana, some 40 kilometers outside Delhi.

The volunteers worked with the Habitat families to build dig foundations and build walls for eight new homes and put up the roof on a ninth. The volunteers also dismantled the existing shanties the families were living in.

What the volunteers experienced touched their hearts. One of them, Ho Lee, said: “These ten days are not enough for us to empathize with the struggles of the poor in India, but when I experience difficult times in life, I will remember them. The best part of this build was that I felt like a very important person. People in the community made me feel very special, even though the labor that I put in was that of an unskilled labor.”

Equally appreciative was Habitat home partner Roshan Ara. She said: “The volunteers not only helped me build my house, they also changed my life for ever. I feel very honored and special to have new friends who valued me and my family.”

The Habitat home partners used to be informal settlers along the Yamuna River in east Delhi and were resettled in Bawana after a slum clearance exercise in 2004. The families were then working in Delhi as rickshaw pullers, rag-pickers and unskilled daily wage laborers. When they moved to Bawana, basic amenities such as water, sanitation facilities, electricity and health care were non-existent. Many lived too far from their work and lost their jobs. For others, such as Raju Sah, the commute remains long: he makes a four-hour trip each day to the capital city and works for 12 hours daily pulling carts for a living.

The families who were resettled in Bawana could buy a plot of land from the government. But that depended in part on how long they had stayed in the old slum. Many families could ill afford the 7,000 rupees (US$176) for a plot of about 10 sq. m. Others who did fork out money for the land have barely enough money left to build a decent house.

Living conditions are poor given that many people are living in huts fenced with bamboo truss with plastic sheets for a roof.

The unsafe housing in Bawana is a major concern with families such as Ram Chander. “As I leave for work every morning, I fear that I may loose my family to fire,” he said. “On my return, when I see them alive I just thank God for His protection on them.”

Nusrat Ata had greater worries. “I cannot leave my daughters alone at home and go to work, their safety is my primary concern.” Now with a Habitat home he has peace of mind. “I am going to have a home of my own now. My children will be safe and comfortable. I can leave them behind without worrying and take up a job.”

Other home partners remembered their new-found friends with fondness. “I have begun missing them. It was not only their labor that saved us cost, but their love and compassion for us which is very special to me,” said Rahimi Bibi, a day after the build ended.

Summing up the build, volunteer Deok-hyun said: “Through this experience I have learned the language of humanity, which not just comes from building a house but even by sharing a smile.”

The Korean volunteers were recruited in 2007 through a posting on the HFH Korea website calling for volunteers for a Posco-funded build. Half of the 100 students recruited took part in a cycling rally to raise awareness about poverty housing while the remaining 50 were among 800 people who helped build 56 houses in an August-2007 blitz build in Korea. In the later half of 2007, representatives of Posco and HFH Korea traveled to India and met with Habitat staff to jointly plan for the build that took place in the Bawana resettlement colony in January 2008. Eventually, 14 of the 100 people recruited were unable to join the Bawana build either because they had found a job or because of a conflict with their school timetable, among other reasons.

Playing a key role in the positive experiences all round is Posco. Young-hun Na, manager of Posco’s corporate philanthropy department, said: “This is not a one-time event for us. We got these volunteers from 40 different universities of Korea, trained them from July 2007 onwards, through orientation, pre-build activities, a cycling event for the cause of the homeless, and an online and off-line program for all the 100 volunteers. This program will continue to create a global network of volunteers specially catering to India, Vietnam and China.”

Sometime after mid-February, Posco will organize a reunion of all the volunteers who built in India. Part of the reunion program includes a bazaar of Indian goods with sale proceeds being donated to HFH India, Na said.

Habitat’s partner in the project is Chetanalaya, a 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 more than 35 years. In the course of its work, Chetanalaya has reached out to more than 1.5 million people through community development, literacy, housing, microfinance and women self-help group initiatives, among others.

To date, Habitat and Chetanalaya have completed 150 houses in the first phase of the project and will continue to brighten the lives of another 150 families in Bawana.