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Shining a tremendous light -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1 November 3, 2006

Shining a tremendous light

I have a friend who is building here this week. Her name is Tracy Anderson, and she has come here from Northern Ireland with a team of 10 other volunteers. I first met her husband Peter about a year ago when I traveled to Belfast to write a story for Habitat World magazine about how Habitat is building peace there among Catholics and Protestants. Peter is the resource development director for HFH Northern Ireland.

Tracy and I have spoken a time or two already this week, and today we had lunch together and were able to chat a little bit. I very much enjoyed that time.

This project is the first Habitat encounter for many of the members on her team, which is very diverse, Tracy says, including both Catholics and Protestant, people of various ages, interests, skills and backgrounds. She says it’s a fantastic team, and that the diversity is in large part what makes it strong.

We talked about the staggering scale of poverty in India and about the role Habitat is playing to combat it. And we talked about the experience here this week.

Tracy says hers has far exceeded her expectations, more meaningful already than what she imagined it would be. “It’s really been incredible,” she says, “and I lie awake at night thinking of the day we just had and of the next day to come.”

I imagine it’s that way for a lot of people here this week. They have come from across India and across the globe, and what they’re doing here truly matters.

The project site has been a constant buzz this week, as might be expected any time a couple of thousand people from around the world gather in one spot to build 100 houses in a week—all led by a former U.S. president and his wife. Media are covering the activities this week, with print articles, video and photographs appearing in media outlets worldwide.

There’s been security and a massive transportation effort to bring hundreds of people back and forth to the site each day. There’s a first aid tent and black and gold motorized rickshaws to shuttle across the four-acre site. They look like huge bumble bees buzzing around.

An India bazaar is open each day, with vendors selling handmade crafts like bamboo plates, bowls, serving trays and hair pins, quilts, bags, clothing, pottery and jewelry. There’s an enormous food tent where volunteers gather for meals and entertainment. We could almost have a small county fair in there if needed. A sound system has been installed, and music is piped at moderate levels across the site. Announcements also are delivered through it. A voice beckons volunteers to meals each day and relays other news. One volunteer, everyone learned this morning, turned a year older today.

There are guards and fencing, appropriate security measures that are both seen and unseen. There are name tags, an information desk, travel assistance, registration, a media tent and VIP collection area.

There’s simply a lot going on here this week.

But almost as quickly as it began, it will end. The volunteers will embrace, exchange email addresses and regards, then leave, packing up memories for a lifetime. A ceremony will appropriately celebrate the project’s closing. Production staff will pack up the sound system, and as the camera lights dim, other staff will disassemble the various tents, and still others will truck them away.

But the end of this week will more importantly open a new chapter in the lives of the 100 families building here. They will always remember the experience, but as the dust literally settles, they will quickly return to the task of living, of earning a wage and raising a family, of washing clothes and cooking and paying bills and getting from one point to another in time for whatever has drawn them there … of laughing and praying and crying and sometimes arguing, of sleeping and waking, and of dreaming, too.

In more than two decades, the Jimmy Carter Work Project has resulted in hundreds of homes in dozens of locations around the world. It has shone a tremendous light on the issues Habitat for Humanity and others are working so hard not only to confront but to overcome as well.

So it’s people like Tracy and her teammates—and the many others at the JCWP and throughout the world—who make it happen, who care enough to reach out and help, and whether they travel 10 or 10,000 miles to do it matters very little. It’s a real privilege to be here in India and to interact with such caring people from so many locations. It’s a fun project. It’s full of excitement, only intensified by being in a culture and environment so different from my own. And I’m grateful for the experience.

As I stroll across the build site, there’s a very positive vibe in play, and as I watch the houses go up, the sweet potato-colored roofing tiles interlock. I imagine what the site will be like once the “circus” has left town. It’s a nice thought to keep.