Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks at opening ceremonies for the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 in Durban, South Africa




Thousands of volunteers line up for registration, followed by the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 opening ceremony at the convention center in downtown Durban.
Photo by Ginny Dixon


Durban Welcomes Volunteers
to South Africa

By Pat Curry

It was as if a lifetime’s longing was breathed out in a single moment. Thousands of South African and international volunteers had joined to celebrate the opening of the 2002 Jimmy Carter Work Project at Durban’s International Convention Centre on Sunday, June 2. The evening’s master of ceremonies, television newscaster Peter Ndoro, began by sharing that some of us are fortunate enough to take decent shelter for granted. For the 100 families who will have homes to call their own by week’s end, “It’s not a dream,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

As the words left his lips, an audible sigh rolled across the auditorium as the homeowners savored the reality. A day that had been years in the making had finally arrived. Grateful, happy, excited and overwhelmed, they were ready to bring the dream to life.

But first, it was time to rejoice—and to marvel.

Less than a decade ago, this night would have been illegal. Under apartheid, whites, blacks, Indians and mixed-race “coloreds” were not allowed to occupy the same hall. But the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994 brought an end to the system of legalized racism that ripped people from their homes and consigned them to a life of relentless poverty.

“Few generations have the opportunity to reconstruct their nation as they reach out in reconciliation,” Ndoro said. “God has given us that opportunity. This isn’t about faceless, nameless people. It’s about real people whose lives are going to be changed.”

Durban’s mayor, His Worship Obed Mlaba, welcomed the volunteers who he said were heeding the call of South African President Thabo Mbeki to make 2002 the “year of the volunteer.”

“All the work of the liberators, of the struggle, was never based on pay,” he said. “It was based on true love.”

He also reminded the audience that one of the many legacies of apartheid is a backlog of decent housing. Despite a commitment from the city’s government to build 16,000 housing units a year, it will still take 15 years, he said, to meet the current need for shelter.

Still, the Durban of 2002 is a far different city than the one Millard and Linda Fuller first visited in 1966. Within a week the city will be changed even more.

“The miracle is best described in a simple way,” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said. “Let’s look ahead one week. Every volunteer will be going home, and every homeowner will be living in a completed house. That’s the miracle.”

President Carter said it was exciting for him to be in Durban with his family. He pointed out that his family and the Fullers, as well as all Americans who grew up in the American South, shared a heritage with South Africa of a segregated society. Coming to South Africa to build with Habitat is particularly fulfilling for them.

“Our family has always been close to this great country,” he said. “We’ll be working hand in hand together.”

— Pat Curry is a writer based in the U.S.


Photo by Ginny Dixon


 




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