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The transformation of a community

Volunteers from Uganda, Armenia, El Salvador and Mexico — and six from Knoxville, Tenn. — gathered in India’s southernmost region last week to build and repair five houses for people affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami. One of these houses will be the 200,001st house built by Habitat for Humanity worldwide.

The five houses are sprinkled throughout three separate streets in this tiny village in the Tamil Nadu government of India. And each house was at a different stage when the work began. But as soon as the international team arrived in Kuttapuly village, they were joined by homeowners and a cadre of local volunteers to form a unified group of committed builders.

The volunteers quickly divided into five groups and began to lay bricks, apply plaster and paint the walls. Nearby, skilled local workers carefully carved the wooden beams to use in the roofs.

As the volunteers toiled under the hot Indian sun, goats rested in the shade of nearby houses and smiling children of all ages eagerly practiced their school English on the visitors with “Hello” and “What is your name?”

Surrounded on three sides by water, Kuttapuly and the nearby Kanyakumari district were heavily damaged by the tsunami, with several villages nearly completely destroyed. The loss of life throughout the district is estimated to be around 1,500. Some estimate that more than 7,800 houses were severely damaged or destroyed.

Since December, Habitat for Humanity has repaired 105 houses in the village that were severely damaged by the tsunami and are working on several more.

But the significance of Habitat for Humanity’s 200,001st house is not lost on the volunteers or, perhaps, the community. The enthusiasm and determination to get the job done is evident in the ready smiles behind the sweaty the paint-splattered faces. They know that beyond these houses are thousands more that need to be built and repaired for people in need. And as Knoxville volunteer Mariane Whittemore said, “we are proud to be here and to be part of the transformation of this community.”