JCWP 2006 kicks off, opening a new chapter in many lives. -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

JCWP 2006 kicks off, opening a new chapter in many lives.

The JCWP build site bustles with activity on the eve of the event.


Twenty-two years ago, Fatima Bee Shah was among the first families in India to move into a safe, solid Habitat home. About the same time, a few thousand miles away, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was renovating houses in the first-ever Jimmy Carter Work Project in New York City.

On Sunday, Fatima was among the guests present at this year’s project in India, the 23rd overall. She listened to Mr. Carter recount his personal connection with the country. Thirty-eight years ago his mother Lillian served in the Peace Corps not far from the build site. He also expressed his gratitude for the on-site preparation done thus far.

“We are very grateful to the homeowner families and the other volunteers who have done a heroic job of changing this monsoon lake into a wonderful building site,” he said. “We will be honored to work side by side with you volunteers and members of the homeowner families to complete this project. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Some 2,000 JCWP volunteers from around the world converged on Lonavala, a 2.5-hour drive southeast of the nation’s commercial center of Mumbai. Mr. and Mrs. Carter have led the project in numerous locations around the world, building much-needed houses in the process, but even more importantly, perhaps, drawing enormous attention to the issues surrounding poverty and substandard housing. This week will prove no different.

While volunteers retrieved their name tags in the afternoon, toured the 100-house build site, shopped in the on-site India Bazaar, greeted, mingled and registered, the anticipation in them and the homeowners themselves was building as well.

A shared drive to transform lives—like that of Fatima more than two decades ago—is what has drawn committed Habitat partners across the globe to build modest, concrete-block houses with Indian families who so urgently need them. The homeowners, who will help build their own houses this week, will purchase them through no-profit loans. The homes cost about US$2,840 to sponsor. Averaging about 360 square feet, they will be built in duplex style with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and veranda.

Before the work begins, however, there is cause to celebrate. During the opening ceremony Sunday night, Mr. Carter addressed the audience, as did Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford and HFH-India CEO Peter Selvarajan. The ceremony got off to a rousing start with a traditional dance featuring cymbals and both snare and bass drums. The drummers marched through the main entrance and past clicking cameras raised high in the crowd. After finding their seats, the guests watched a large-screen video presenting the Indian national anthem, sung by famous Indian classical singers. An exuberant dance celebrated the spirit of the fishing community and a traditional stick dance, dandiya rassi, depicted the joy after harvesting.

The home partners this week will foster hope in adequate shelter of their own, says Peter Selvarajan, CEO of Habitat for Humanity India.

“We know from our work that repairing an existing home or building a new house is a powerful agent for improving a family’s chances in life,” he said. “The family is healthier. Everyone sleeps better. Children have somewhere to study. Parents have a better chance of earning a decent living. The family gains a stronger sense of self and community because they know that they helped build a place they own—a place they can call their home.”

So as this year’s Jimmy Carter Work Project begins, so too does a new chapter in the home partners’ lives. In the case of Fatima, her children attained a better education, having escaped the hardships poverty housing imposed on them. She now lives with her youngest son, who is today a teacher in Khammam in the neighboring Andhra Pradesh state to the east.

Thanks to their own resolve—and to the compassion from 2,000 of her newest friends—this week’s homeowner partners will use this opportunity to create a new foundation on which they can more ably plan for their future—and build on hope rather than merely cling to it.