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'Catholicos Karekin II Work Project' in Armenia
Seventy-two priests and more than 300 volunteers joined to build homes in Armenia in early September. His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians, blessed the event held in his name and planted a symbolic tree to represent a new beginning for the families moving into their new homes.
The project provided homes for 37 Armenian families in need, symbolizing 36 worldwide dioceses of the Armenian Church, plus the Holy See. Volunteers sanded, painted and hammered in renovating one apartment building of 24 homes in Gavar, near Armenia's Lake Sevan. Thirteen more homes were built across the country.
"Everyone volunteered at the embassy, and I didn't even ask them to," said Richard Hyde, deputy head of mission for the British Embassy in Armenia, as he took a break from painting. "It's not so much about giving money, it's about taking part. It's the sense of doing something for the sake of doing it."
Hyde worked alongside future Habitat homeowners and volunteers who traveled from as far as the Netherlands and the United States. Longtime Habitat supporter, former U.S. congressman and head of the U.S. National Council of Churches, Bob Edgar led a Global Village team of 19 to participate in the Armenia build. Other participants included Nic Retsinas, director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies and chair of Habitat for Humanity International's board of directors; Bishop Vicken Aykazian of the diocese of the Armenian Church of America; Ken Bensen, Habitat for Humanity International denominational relations coordinator; and representatives from the Armenia Tree Project.
The build came on the heels of a historic partnership signed between the Armenian Apostolic Church and Habitat for Humanity in April, aimed at combating poverty housing worldwide.
In Armenia, a mountainous country nestled in the southern Caucasus, 45 percent of the country's population of 3 million lives in poverty, according to the Council of Europe. Habitat for Humanity Armenia has been working with families in need since 2000 and has provided homes for more than 1,000 people.
"All my life I could not have dreamt about an apartment like this," said Sogohonon Martirosov, a new homeowner sharing an apartment with his 22-year-old son. "I'm an old man, and I wish I am given the time to help other people as I have been helped."
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In early September, the Habitat for Humanity Lebanon staff was joined by regional and disaster response experts from Habitat for Humanity International to carry out an assessment of the recent conflict's destruction and to develop a rebuilding strategy.
The fighting in Lebanon destroyed vital infrastructure and leveled buildings throughout the country, especially in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon. The United Nations estimates about 15,000 homes destroyed, with several thousand more damaged.
In response to the crisis, Habitat will team with local nongovernmental and community-based organizations. Through these partnerships, the organization will establish Habitat Resource Centers, a model previously used successfully in tsunami response in Southeast Asia. The centers will offer technical assistance and training for repair and construction, volunteer mobilization, and financial assistance that will enable qualified families to purchase locally available materials to repair damaged houses or construct core house structures.
Habitat will focus on poor and marginalized communities that have been identified as likely to fall through the cracks of larger reconstruction efforts. The first phase of the response focuses on 15 communities in the four provinces of Marjeyoun, Sur, Nabateyeh and Bint Jbail.
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According to a 2005 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 5.5 million South Africans are living with HIV/AIDS. Nearly a quarter of a million are children under age 15, and many of them are orphans whose parents already have succumbed to the disease.
In Cape Town's Nyanga area, Habitat for Humanity South Africa is partnering with a local church and nonprofit, the J.L. Zwane Centre, to help provide safe, decent housing for AIDS orphans.
The planning phase of the partnership between Habitat and the Zwane Centre began in 2004, and house construction began in 2005. Cynthia Mdoyi is the first Habitat homeowner to benefit from the partnership in Nyanga. Mdoyi has cared for the children of her late sister--some HIV-positive--since 2000, but it was impossible for her to improve her housing situation on her own; even providing food for the six children was difficult.
Now, through the Habitat-Zwane partnership, Mdoyi and her nieces and nephews not only have adequate housing, but they also have assistance in the form of an HIV/AIDS support program through the Zwane Centre.
Further Habitat construction is under way in the community, and more families have been selected for ongoing building and support.
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In September, Habitat for Humanity in Vietnam received government approval to operate in the provinces of Tien Giang, Kien Giang and Dong Nai, as well as in Ho Chi Minh City.
Earlier this year, Habitat had already helped to improve the living conditions of 801 families through housing microfinance loans and technical assistance. Habitat and its partners served the families under a pilot project that started in October 2005 in the southern province of Kien Giang. More than US$170,000 has been invested in the project to reduce the poverty level in the province's three districts of An Bien, Chau Thanh and Hon Dat.
Housing microfinance loans were administered by Habitat partner organization Women's Union; Habitat and Friendship Union provided loan and capacity training capital. Habitat also rendered technical assistance to families undertaking home repairs and renovations.
Habitat has entered a three-year contract with the Kien Giang province to expand to a total of seven districts, serving 1,394 additional families through housing microfinance and technical support in shelter, water and sanitation improvements. Habitat Vietnam has a five-year strategic plan that aims to serve 18,000 families by 2011.
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With this year's Jimmy Carter Work Project successfully completed in Lonavala, India, it's time to mark calendars for next year's event. The 2007 JCWP will take place Oct. 28-Nov. 2 in Los Angeles. During this week, volunteers will join former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in building and repairing 100 houses with low-income families from around the area.
Sixteen homes will be completed in the Los Angeles port community of San Pedro, as well as 14 homes in South Los Angeles and five homes in Santa Monica. Volunteers also will help to repair 65 homes throughout Los Angeles as part of Habitat's "Brush With Kindness" program.
This will be the second JCWP event in southern California. In 1995, more than 1,500 volunteers from 39 states and five countries participated. Twenty-one houses were built in the Watts/Willowbrook community, with accelerated builds also occurring at five other affiliates in southern California.
Visit www.habitat.org/jcwp/2007 to sign up for e-mail notification as soon as volunteer applications become available online and for contact information regarding sponsorship and homeownership opportunities.
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Shelter is still a priority in Pakistan, though more than a year has passed since a 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook the country. More than 70,000 people were killed in Balakot alone on Oct. 8, 2005, and more than 3.5 million people were left homeless in northern parts of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir.
Since February 2006, Habitat for Humanity Pakistan has provided more than 220 shelters to families in Balakot. As winter approached, Habitat continued to meet the pressing housing needs of survivors, transporting shelter materials by Jeep into remote villages for assembly.
Habitat also provides tangible help through its sawmill project, which began in June. More than 650 families were helped in their reconstruction efforts through the free sawmill services, in which each homeowner family is entitled to cut 25 sheets of wood from their personal timber. The project is a collaboration between Habitat Japan, Habitat Pakistan and Japan Platform.
"No one has ever provided us with the chance to cut our timber," says Mahboob Ur-Rehman. "Last month, Habitat provided my family with a shelter. ... We thank God for your assistance to this village." Ur-Rehman, 65, is from a remote Serian village where Habitat staff recently went to provide sawmill services.
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Habitat for Humanity has announced plans to build 40 houses in a poverty-stricken area of Porto Alegre, Brazil, with construction slated to take place over the 40 days of Lent in 2007. Project partners include churches, local government and private businesses.
The houses will be built with families who live along the Guaibe River. Some of Porto Alegre's poorest residents, many of these families live in shacks and survive by recycling and selling items from the garbage they collect in the city.
Habitat hopes to recruit a total of 20 international church teams to work with local volunteers and families to build the houses. The General Board of American Baptist Churches USA already has contributed US$5,000 toward one of the houses.
Habitat for Humanity Brazil began working with low-income families in 1992 and currently works in more than 20 cities in six Brazilian states: Ceará, Goiás, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Tocantins. It is estimated that more than 50 million Brazilians live in inadequate conditions.
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