HFH India Marks International Women’s Day With Inaugural Women Build
Some 100 Volunteers, Many From U.S., Build Together With Habitat Women Homepartners in Bangalore Community
BANGALORE, 24th March 2010: Habitat for Humanity India recently marked the completion of its inaugural Women Build in Bangalore city in the south of the country.
Some 100 international and local volunteers, mostly women, took part in a special two-week build which began on 8th March to commemorate International Women’s Day. Sixty-two volunteers traveled from the United States, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to build with Habitat home partners in Hegde Nagar, a slum resettlement community north of Bangalore.
In addition, volunteers from local operations of U.S.-headquartered corporations such as Thomson Reuters and CISCO as well as international school Stonehill also chipped in.
After the opening ceremony, the volunteers toured the build sites and took part in a community celebration of the holiday together with more than 2,000 women members of local self-help savings groups.
During the build, volunteers worked on 15 houses, building alongside Habitat home partners — typically single mothers, widows or sole breadwinners in households headed by women. Amid sweltering heat, they dug trenches, moved stones to build foundations and lay brick blocks to construct walls.
When completed, the houses will measure 250-300 sq. ft. Each house comprises a living room/bedroom, a kitchen and a toilet.
The Habitat home partners are typically members of local self-help groups who save one-third of the cost of a house. Habitat and its partners then contribute the remaining two-thirds. Home partners will repay the interest-free loans for their houses over five to seven years. Monthly repayments should average 700 to 750 rupees (US$15.40 to US$16.50).
Charon Frazier, an American volunteer, said language barriers did not prevent volunteers and family members from connecting. The thankful family at Frazier’s house even gave the volunteers the honor of choosing the paint color for their new home.
Frazier said the father came up to the volunteers at the end of a day’s build and said: “I want a picture of all of you up in our house. I want it up so that our children, and our children’s children, will know who helped us build this home.”
Similarly, home partner Sheela was moved by her experience with the volunteers. “I’m very surprised these people have come from such a great distance…These are educated, skilled people who came so far to do common laborers’ work to help us. They are willing to identify with us and know us on our level.”
Sheela’s husband R. Natarajan stopped working as a carpenter after he developed severe respiratory problems five years ago. Since then, Sheela has been providing for their two teenage children on her income as a garment factory worker.
In between building activities, the volunteers attended educational presentations from some of HFH India’s partners that work on housing and women rights issue. One such presentation was by Dr. Duarte Barreto, of Fedina, an Indian organization which partners with HFH India to provide housing for low income families. Fedina focuses on promoting rights for workers, women and other disadvantaged groups.
“When these women are deserted, their husbands will often keep the dowry and the title to the land,” Barreto said. “So, many women left without title to their land can be thrown off at any time.”
“I am glad you are here for this Women Build, and I hope you will do even more. Here, and in your own countries, fight for these rights. Fight for legislation. And empower women through women-led programs such as this one,” he added.
The need for secure and affordable housing in Hegde Nagar is great. Most of the families living here were relocated from other urban slums. Lacking money and durable materials, families built shelters with whatever they had. Their homes offered little protection from the elements and did not have adequate sanitary facilities.
Arokya Mary is among these families. She used bed sheets, tin, cardboard, straw, wood and rubber to build a shelter for she and her three children. “It is not a proper home,” said Arokya who is widowed. “But it is the best I can do on my own.”
HFH India’s partner in Women Build is a Bangalore-based non-government organization BIRDS (Brothers Integrated Rural Development Society which works closely with women self-help groups.
The Women Build is part of HFH India’s plan to build 150 houses in partnership with households headed by women in Hegde Nagar by 2011.