The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | December 2001 / January 2002
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Unity Flourishes in the Republic of Korea

Under the starless evening sky of Aug. 10, thousands of former strangers stood united, holding hands and singing simple but meaningful words: “Hand in hand we stand, all across the land; we can make this world a better place for you and me.”

It was the culmination of a week’s effort of blood, sweat and tears as more than 4,500 volunteers and homeowners built 136 housing units in 34 buildings at six sites throughout the Republic of Korea. (All told, some 10,000 volunteers worked on Jimmy Carter Work Project 2001 and its pre-build over the course of four months.) They came from approximately 30 nations to participate in the JWCP. They worked side by side for five labor-intensive days, conquering language and cultural barriers and overcoming blazing temperatures and unfamiliar construction techniques.

Through it all, this global microcosm built more than houses. In those five days, their “love in action” demonstrated what could be done when God’s people agree to work together.

“One word I’ve heard in South Korea more than any other word is ‘reconciliation,’ ” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the closing ceremonies. “I look on Habitat for Humanity as a movement for reconciliation, a breaking down of barriers between people who might be different... between people who have good housing and poor housing, rich and poor. Reconciliation is a matter of binding those who are different with the love of Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, the work of “reconciliation” was expressed throughout the week. Some 200 Japanese and Korean cyclists bridged their countries’ historical ethnic dispute by cycling together to raise funds and awareness. Many veterans of the Korean War returned to the land where they fought for democracy 50 years ago and saw the results of their courage in this now-thriving nation. Five young-adult Romanians—four orphans, including two of Roma, or “Gypsy,” descent—traveled to this distant land where, for the first time in their lives, they were free from prejudice and discrimination. A number of Korean adoptees returned to rediscover their heritage. The work site itself proclaimed reconciliation with Hwa hap ey maul, meaning “Village of Reconciliation,” sculpted in Korean lettering in shrubbery on the hillside.

“These new homes are the result of homeowners’ sweat equity, the dedicated service of volunteers and the generous gifts of domestic and international donors,” said Dr. Kun Mo Chung, chairman of HFH Korea.“With JCWP 2001, HFH Korea moves into a new era.The result could culminate into national reconciliation and lasting peace.The Habitat movement will continue with added meaning and at a faster pace.”

The board of HFH Korea has high hopes for the future of Habitat in Korea as well as throughout Asia. Some 28 units are under construction in Korea in these post-JCWP days, and the national organization is targeting a goal of 250 more in the next year, in addition to funding houses in other neighboring Asian nations. The most hopeful goal of all is one day to build Habitat houses in North Korea—a possibility that is currently yielding interest north of the demilitarized zone.

As in most countries, the need for affordable housing is a challenge in South Korea.While the housing need in this peninsular nation does not visually rival that of the squatter settlements in the Philippines or South Africa, poor housing conditions such as overcrowding, lack of sanitation and precarious construction are prevalent for at least 30 percent of the country’s 48 million people. Further, homeownership is a cultural tradition in this land driven by customs, but most of Korea’s poor and extremely poor cannot afford to buy a home of their own.

Bak Ok Lan, 47, and her family were in this group. She and her husband, Song Myung Bok, lived for years with their daughter in a metal container—similar to an American-style workshop shed.They eke out a living by collecting cans and bottles, earning approximately US $500 monthly, but say they would never have been able to own a home without Habitat.

“I always lived in someone else’s container and land,” says Bak Ok Lan. “I always knew I would have to move again. …Now, I feel stable. I’m not worried anymore about someone telling me to get out. I am never thinking of moving again.”

It was to help families such as these that so many thousands of volunteers came to build in Korea. Many echoed the thoughts of Jules Horwitz, an 11-time JCWP veteran who was building in memory of his wife, who had passed away just four months earlier.

“What’s important is that we have a world, there are people in it and we need to take care them,” he says. “That’s what Habitat is doing here. It’s important for people to have a home.”

Indeed, by Aug. 10, it was clear that all were united in a common spirit. This was not simply happiness; it was joy.

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