The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | December 2001 / January 2002
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US / Canada Region

Building Hope in Winnipeg

Vivid murals honoring aboriginal history adorn brick walls just blocks from a Korean corner grocery and the Ukrainian Labor Temple that has anchored Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood for more than 50 years. A vibrant urban tapestry that threads together Francophones and Filipinos, El Salvadorans and Italians, Manitoba’s capital city is home to a community of cultures from around the world.

   As host to Canada’s eighth annual Ed Schreyer Work Project, the city and its international landscape made a natural foundation on which to launch Habitat for Humanity International’s World Leaders Build in July. But for Canada’s former governor general, the Rt. Honourable Ed Schreyer, the build was about going local, not global.

   "Winnipeg is my hometown,” Schreyer said, “geographically close to the heart of the country and close to my heart.”

   Schreyer and his wife, Lily, worked with partner homeowners George and Marlene Wood on Pritchard Avenue. Schreyer, who enjoys installing siding, worked one day with the Premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, on the home’s exterior, while Lily Schreyer helped a neighbor’s children paint a playhouse.

   Neighborly love was at the heart of this year’s ESWP as members of the community—firefighters, paramedics, child-care workers, youth groups, cultural groups, local businesses and the mayor’s office—joined Habitat volunteers from throughout Canada and the United States to build 10 simple, decent houses with 10 partner families.

   Firefighters labored on houses, performed fire-safety inspections in the community and taught fire-prevention techniques, while paramedics applied ice packs and bandaged scrapes. Child-care workers and church youth groups held a weeklong children’s festival—complete with face painting and storytelling—to help the children of homeowner families transition into the neighborhood. Cultural groups staged each evening’s entertainment and served regional cuisine to hungry volunteers.

   “Each one of you is part of the solution,” said Mary Williams, HFH Winnipeg’s executive director, in thanking volunteers. “You are helping to create hope and making a difference in the lives of people who know what poverty housing looks like.”

   For Habitat homeowners like the Woods and their three children, a new house enhances what they value most: “devotion to family and community.” As residents of the North End for 30 years, the Woods say they prize a safe and friendly environment for their children, and that owning their own house will help them achieve it.

   The build in the North End marks a homecoming for HFH Winnipeg as well. Established in 1988, HFH Winnipeg has built houses with 78 families during the past 13 years and was the site of the 1993 Jimmy Carter Work Project. While early builds focused on the inner city, builds in recent years moved to more suburban locations. Land availability—10 lots for this year’s Ed Schreyer Work Project and 23 lots for future builds—has turned HFH Winnipeg’s attention to a long-range plan for revitalizing the North End neighborhood.

   “We didn’t want to just make a big hurrah with a blitz build, put in a few houses and then leave for the rest of the year,” said Olenka Antymniuk, chairperson of HFH Winnipeg’s board of directors.“We wanted the community to know that we are here for the long term.”

   Once the arson capital of Canada and plagued by years of property vandalism and neglect, the inner city had developed a reputation as a high-crime area. Now the North End is seeing a resurgence in community pride as HFH Winnipeg consults with the residents and connects with other community groups in its focus on neighborhood renewal.

   “Residents of the community took us on a tour of their block and invited us into their houses,” said Antymniuk. "We discovered that one of our board members lived in one of those houses when he was growing up, so it was truly a return to the community
for us.”

   One way in which HFH Winnipeg is phasing back into the community is through the Habitat Community Fix-up Project, a pilot program that does minor repair and beautification projects in communities where Habitat builds.

   The renovation project requires homeowners to submit an application and, if approved, purchase all materials for small-scale projects such as building fences, painting houses, covering graffiti and mowing lawns. Habitat Community Fix-up provides the labor by enlisting volunteers from local businesses, corporate and community groups and at-risk youth.

   “Habitat is concentrating on rebuilding neighborhoods rather than just a house here and a house there,” said Brent Gillon, director of the Habitat Community Fix-up Project. “It’s starting to snowball. There is unlimited potential here.”

US / Canada Region
President Bush Joins World Leaders Build

   They almost could have blended in with the other volunteers in Waco,Texas. Their accents were authentic, their faces sweaty, their smiles sincere. But then there were the Secret Service agents. And the television cameras. And the titles. President George W. and first lady Laura Bush joined thousands of volunteers around the world, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Republic of Korea President Kim Dae Jung, and heads of state and government in more than 40 countries, in building during Habitat’s World Leaders Build in August.

   For many Habitat supporters, the World Leaders Build was a time to draw together as a global community. However, in remarks to volunteers, homeowners and media, Bush lauded community spirit as a national value as well.

   “Neighbors helping neighbors—it’s a value that has existed for a long period of time,” he said. “But no president should ever take that value for granted.”

   For homeowner Gladys Evans, the opportunity to build with the president for a day emphasized the value of a goal she had been working toward for a longer period of time: to own a simple, decent house. “This is something I’ve always dreamed of,” she said. “It’s finally there. I will have a home my kids can come home to.”

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