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Japanese University Volunteers On Habitat Build In Southern India

East Asian Volunteers Help Eight South Asian Families To Construct New Homes

HOSKOTE, 18th March 2008: Language difference is no barrier when it comes to building with eight Habitat home partners in southern India, as a group of 13 volunteers from Japan’s Doshisha University discovered.

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Industrious: The volunteers from Japan’s Doshisha University working alongside the Habitat home partner family.

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Paying their way: Most of the Japanese volunteers took on part-time jobs back home to save for their trip to Bangalore.

Team leader Takuya Shimizu, who is conversant in English, said of Habitat home partner Saraswathi: “She does not know English and I don’t know Kannada (the local language). But we ‘speak’ through gestures and understand each other. I have even gotten to know her somewhat.” He made the remarks in an interview with India’s national newspaper, The Hindu.

Saraswathi is the leader of a woman’s self help group (SHG) in Shankanipura village, Hoskote town. The village is located about 30 km. from Bangalore, the capital of south-western Indian state of Karnataka. The SHG is working with Habitat for Humanity India in Bangalore to build new homes under Habitat’s Save & Build housing microfinance scheme. The home partners form savings groups to save one-third of the house cost and when that amount is reached, Habitat and its partners contribute the remaining two-thirds of the house cost and construction will then begin.

Habitat’s partner in the project is Brothers Integrated Rural Development Society (BIRDS) that is under the Sacred Heart Brothers Society, a Catholic non-profit social organization. Bangalore-based BIRDS undertakes projects in women empowerment through women self-help groups and income generation projects, skills training for rural young people and women and educational assistance for children, among others.

During the construction, the Japanese volunteers helped to mix cement, lay bricks and filter sand, among other work.

The trip also left an impression on team leader Shimizu for other reasons. Looking at fellow volunteer Risa Takashi, he said in jest: “Saraswathi asks me to work, work and work. She says boys must work. But for Risa, she is lenient and talks to her about make-up and bangles.”

Most of the Japanese volunteers, aged between 19 and 20, earned the fare for their trip to Bangalore from part-time jobs back home. Nineteen-year-old Kaori Sawada, who is studying economics at Doshisha, said: “I worked in a restaurant and earn about 60,000 yen (about US$584) in a month. That’s how I have been able to fund my trip.”

All the hard work put in by the volunteers was encouraging to the home partners who worked alongside them. “They came from their country and worked with us like our own family members. Their coming has given us great joy,” said Saraswati.