Guess who came to JCWP? -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Guess who came to JCWP?

By Wong Hiew Peng

A strong spirit of volunteerism filled the work site on the first day of the Jimmy Carter Work Project, as more than 2,000 volunteers from all over the world began laying bricks and installing windows and doors in Lonavala, India, a village southeast of Mumbai.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, arrived early at the 100-house construction site Monday to work alongside other volunteers and soon-to-be Habitat homeowners. The volunteers’ efforts and morale were boosted by the presence of luminaries such as actor, architect and philanthropist Brad Pitt; Australian cricketer Steve Waugh; and Indian talk-show host and columnist Pooja Bedi.

Carter stopped work briefly to join Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford and Habitat for Humanity India CEO Peter Selvarajan at a mid-morning press conference. “Habitat’s program depends on finding families who cannot otherwise afford housing,” said Carter. “We’ve realized that people across the globe have the same basic needs, dreams and aspirations.”

Although JCWP volunteers pay their own way and bring their own tools, few consider their participation a sacrifice, Carter said.

“Habitat for Humanity volunteers are following the Carters’ example of neighbors helping neighbors,” said Reckford. “Every person who is part of this project will be enriched this week by working with Habitat partner families who are helping to improve their lives and the lives of others in the community.”

Sadhiya Sheikh and Shalini Sathe exemplify such neighborliness and mutual help. Their houses adjoin each other in the duplex model that is being used for the Lonavala build. As JCWP work began, Sadhiya and Shalini took turns helping each other with rangoli, or decorative painting, on the floor of their porches.

For Shalini, who is due to give birth to her second child in a month’s time, the volunteers are instrumental in helping to fulfill her dream of having a safe and decent place to bring up her children. Currently, Shalini lives with her husband, Subhash, their 2-year-old daughter, Jagruti, and nine other relatives in a brick house in Bhaje village. The village is about a half hour’s ride from the Lonavala build site.

“We have such a big family that two rooms are not enough for all the brothers,” said Shalini. Her pregnancy makes it increasingly difficult for her to fetch water from a communal tap.

At the build site, Shalini helped to lay bricks and fill small buckets of water for mixing cement. Habitat’s “sweat equity” model, in which homeowners help build their houses, presents little difficulty for Shalini, who says she considers the work a joy.

Shalini looks forward to providing a good education for her children. She hopes to spend time cultivating strong values in her children in her new home.

In their building efforts, Shalini and her neighbors benefited from celebrity help. The JCWP site was abuzz when Brad Pitt paid a surprise visit. He met with the Carters and proceeded to help other volunteers lay the cement blocks that complete the exterior of a duplex home.