Building from the Beginning
Habitat reaches a major milestone through the efforts of many.
How did Habitat reach this milestone of 500,000 houses built? As many Habitat volunteers could attest, setting a foundation might take a while — but once it’s established, the walls can rise quickly.
Innovation has been at the heart of the ministry as long as our vision has been a world where everyone has a decent place to live. The very idea of “partnership housing” was a fairly radical concept when Koinonia Farm cofounder Clarence Jordan first voiced the notion. “What the poor need is not charity but capital, not caseworkers but co-workers,” Jordan said. “And what the rich need is a wise, honorable and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.”
Millard and Linda Fuller lived at Koinonia then, and by 1976, the Fullers had tested the partnership housing model in Georgia and in Africa. That year, Habitat for Humanity was officially born.
Establishing a footing
During that first decade, fledgling affiliates in places like Texas, Zaire, Guatemala and India determined what worked best in their communities.
Working in Uganda in the early 1980s, Clive Rainey, Habitat’s first-ever volunteer, discovered that importing tools and materials from elsewhere was impractical and expensive. Instead of imported vehicles, Habitat began using local oxcarts to transfer materials, and locally available lime was used for construction instead of high-cost cement. Habitat Uganda even created a “materials-only” plan that included no-profit loans for construction materials, with technical expertise from Habitat. Families could improve their own housing, or start a new home, at a pace they could afford.
“It laid the foundation,” Rainey says, “for programs that are now key to Habitat’s broad-based approach to housing solutions.”
Back in 1981, five years after Habitat’s birth, 21 enterprising affiliates had built 342 homes. Throughout the decade, church groups, student organizations and community leaders brought the Habitat model to their own cities and towns.
In 1991, Habitat celebrated 10,000 houses worldwide. Just two years later, another 10,000 homes were in the books. By 1996, Habitat commemorated house No. 50,000, in Mexico City. Volunteer programs such as Global Village, Women Build and Youth Programs gave more people opportunities to get involved. And more countries kept inviting Habitat to share its vision inside their borders.
This past decade, results have surged exponentially. House No. 100,000 was dedicated in 2000 in New York City. By 2005, house No. 200,000 was completed in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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Today, Habitat’s work continues to expand. New construction efforts have been joined by housing microfinance partnerships in more than 30 countries. Advocacy efforts occur around the world, pursuing policies that help families secure land tenure in Haiti, for example, and ensuring that widows in Lesotho are able to keep their homes after the death of their husbands.
Building homes for orphans and vulnerable people in countries such as Romania and Mozambique ensure that those least able to improve their own housing situation receive help. Disaster-response efforts help rebuild communities, and disaster-mitigation programs help families prepare their houses before disaster ever strikes.
Water and sanitation projects, like sustainable water filters in Tajikistan, ensure that Habitat’s partner families have safe drinking water available. Working with partners to provide farming and livelihood training in places like Cambodia, give families a greater chance to be successful in their new or improved houses.
And in the United States, Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative equips affiliates to build, renovate, weatherize and repair houses throughout an entire neighborhood.
Through all of this, Habitat has reached this current milestone with the help of countless Habitat partner families, volunteers, supporters and advocates. And the work continues.
“Habitat is a beginning,” the premiere issue of Habitat World said in an article about work in New York City. “And for the 16 to 20 families who will live at 742-744 East Sixth Street, it will be nothing less than a resurrection: a fresh start on life, with new possibilities, new hopes and dreams.”
The focus remains the same, wherever the work occurs and whatever form it takes. Always seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat continues to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope.