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Foreign Diplomats Build With Seven Habitat Families In Western India

Staff from Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotels Among Volunteers

KARJAT, 18th March 2008: The quiet village of Dharaychiwadi in Karjat, western India, was a hub of activity when a team of diplomatic volunteers arrived for a recent weekend build with Habitat for Humanity India.

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One for the album: The various consul generals and volunteers from Oberoi Hotels, Rotary Club of Mumbai and Women IndiaBUILDS committee.

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Single file: The volunteers getting ready to work on the homes in Dharaychiwadi village.

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Solidarity: Be they diplomatic staff or hotel employees, the volunteers worked side by side to lay the bricks.

Among the 40 volunteers working with the seven Habitat families to build their new homes were the consul-generals of Belgium, Egypt, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the US and Vietnam. The Polish consul-general was represented by his wife. Also on the build were staff from the Indian luxury hotel chain Oberoi Hotels, members of the Rotary Club of Mumbai, and HFH India’s Women IndiaBUILDS committee.

The villagers of Dharaychiwadi, about 50 km. from Mumbai, are mostly woodcutters, brick makers and rice farmers. Among them is fifty-two-year-old Habitat home partner Maniba Pardhi, whose husband is intellectually disabled. She said in an interview with Mumbai newspapers Mid-Day: “Our house now is too small for us and my child who is in first standard. I even have a loan of 30,000 rupees (US$744) to settle but at least now I’ll have a better home to live in.”

Each of the seven brick-and-clay houses built in Dharaychiwadi averages between 300 and 400 sq. f.t (28-37 sq. m.) and consists of a room, a kitchen and a bathroom. The houses cost about 60,000 to 65,000 rupees (about US$1,490 to US$1,610) each. Habitat helps the families to build their new homes through its Save & Build housing microfinance scheme in which families formed savings groups to save toward the cost of a house. When one-third of the house cost has been saved, Habitat and its partners will contribute the remaining two-thirds of a house cost and construction will then begin.

On the volunteer team was Mumbai-based US consul-general Michael Owen, a long-time Habitat volunteer who took part in previous builds with HFH India. “Having built homes for villagers before, I have realized that the people - especially women in Maharashtra - have a clear-cut idea of how they want their houses to be. While they can’t speak English, they have mastered the art of communicating with signs,” he said in an interview with local newspaper The Indian EXPRESS.

“Every country presents a different challenge with climatic considerations and materials used. It helps also when the home owners participate in the home build, since they can give their inputs about the house they finally live in. Today however, I had the most fun making bricks,” Owen was quoted as saying in the Mid-Day newspaper. Owen and his wife Annerieke had built with Habitat in Pakistan, Thailand, Ghana and Tanzania.

Commenting on her maiden volunteer stint, Egyptian consul-general Nabila Salama, said: “It’s good fun despite being a lot of hard work. Even better, it is helping poor people.”

Habitat home partner Tai Dehu Pardhi was contributing her own labor by using a ghamela, local semi spherical vessel, to carry clay to the construction area. The mother of three said: “I always knew I would some day build a house of my own. My husband and I both have worked in construction sites elsewhere, but now we can build our own home - that makes me very happy.”

Egypt’s Salama said: “The pyramids were meant to be built once but these homes will really make a difference to the villagers.”