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Work Around the World -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Work Around the World

Internationally, Habitat programs provide women with the tools and skills they need to improve their shelter and living conditions.

Kyrgyzstan: Empowering women in Central Asia

After her husband left her eight years ago, Jumabubu coped as well as she could. She raised three children on her own, including Izat who has epilepsy and intellectual disabilities.

Jumabubu’s salary from Bishkek Water, a state-run company in the Kyrgyz capital, didn’t go far, and it was not enough to make much-needed repairs to their two-room house. The roof began leaking. By the time the family applied to partner with Habitat Kyrgyzstan, it was concave. When it rained, water poured into Izat’s room. The floor was ruined, and there was mold.

Now, Jumabubu and her family live in a warm and dry home. They were among the first families to participate in a project that aims to keep disabled people out of institutions and with their families. Started in 2007 and funded by the Open Society Institute, the “addressing physical barriers to social inclusion” project engages partners, including Habitat, and is a chance to break the isolation of people with special needs.

While a partner organization provides in-home care, therapy and job training for participating families, Habitat helps to renovate their houses. The project is scheduled to engage a total of 65 families over the next three years.

Through this type of home-improvement work and other housing interventions that focus on women-headed households like Jumabubu’s, Habitat’s work is at the same time improving the status of women in Central Asia, where they often face education, health and rights obstacles. “It’s like I began life with a blank leaf and with a positive and good spirit,” says Habitat partner and single mom Elmira Niazalieva.

Vietnam: Building a house, building a business

In Vietnam , it is traditionally a man’s job to build or to repair a house. But Thanh Thuy has renovated her house and made a home out of it all by herself.

It has not been an easy life. For many years, Thanh Thuy and her two daughters lived on the US$2 a day generated by their work with a small sewing machine. The three women shared a house made of dry palm leaves, with a dirt floor that quickly turned to mud during the rainy season. There were times, Thanh Thuy says, when she felt powerless against nature. “When it rained heavily, we ladled the water into an empty bucket and poured it outside, but by the time we came back inside, the house was already flooded,” she recalls. Worms would come out of the mud floor, and snakes could enter under the door. Sometimes, the family had to ask around for food because the sewing machine was completely wet from the rain, despite being indoors.

Then, Thanh Thuy was told about Habitat Vietnam. She applied for a three-year loan that allowed her to build proper sanitation facilities. Managing to pay back that loan one year early, she continued to partner with Habitat, borrowing again to upgrade her floor. The new floor was constructed at just the right time, as the opportunity arose for her to open a tailoring business. She hired local sewing professionals, who brought in their own sewing machines to work at her house, and now plans to invest in more machines of her own. Sometime in the next three years, she would also like to take out another loan to improve the walls of her house.

“I never dreamed of having a business of my own before. My house was in such a bad condition,” she says. “This project has helped poor families like us, who can’t build a new house, to gradually upgrade our houses to final completion.”

Ethiopia: Fighting for the health of families

According to the Ethiopian nongovernmental organization Action Professionals’ Association for the People, almost 80 percent of the population in cities like Addis Ababa lives in slums that fail to meet basic sanitary benchmarks. Gadisee Mideksa and the 11 family members who share her home don’t realize that they are part of this statistic.

There is a lot of life and love in Gadisee’s house. As the 54-year-old widow brews coffee, 4-year-old granddaughter Hermela sings an alphabet song she has learned in school this week. Great-grandmother Ayantu laughs at the antics of the smiling, dancing child.

For Gadisee and the other members of their family who call these couple of rooms home, their existence is mirrored in every other family they know. Kebele 04/06 is one of the poorest slums in the city. Very few people have access to proper sanitation facilities. The walkways between homes are wet and muddy, and there is no proper sewerage system.

For two years, Gadisee and her family didn’t have a toilet. The previous one collapsed and couldn’t be repaired. Gadisee feared for the health of her family. “When our toilet collapsed, we had to use plastic sheets that we would try and dispose of later,” she explains. “The children became ill. It was a very problematic situation.

“I have tried to ask so many people for help. I have knocked on so many doors,” she continues. “There was no success in my efforts.”

But then Gadisee met a representative of Habitat Ethiopia, which was launching a pilot program to build communal sanitation facilities in the slums of Addis Ababa to test such a program’s feasibility and impact. With the help of the local government, plots of land were identified where sanitation blocks could be built. During the implementation period for the project, 290 individuals in 51 families were served.

Gadisee insists that she couldn’t just give up when she didn;t find help immediately. “This toilet block has made a great change in our lives,” she says. “It’s not just my family that has benefited, but the whole area benefits. It is now our property, and we divide the community into groups. We have keys to the facility, and we raise a small amount of money for maintenance to keep it in a good condition.”

Land availability and prices keep Habitat Ethiopia from partnering with families to build new Habitat homes in Addis Ababa. The water and sanitation project is the first step toward improving the shelter conditions of slum residents. Housing rehabilitation projects are also under consideration for some of the vulnerable families.

“We had so many problems, living here in these conditions, and now one of them is solved,” Gadisee continues. “In the future, I hope that our children can have a better life, better circumstances.”

In the meantime, she says, pointing to the facility a little walk away from her house, “you’ve saved our lives.”

Bolivia: Securing tenure for female heads of household

Barrio Bethania is an informal community that has sprung up on farmland outside the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, in an area known as District 9. Establishing ownership here, as in so many places in the developing world, is expensive, involves navigating a complicated bureaucracy and can be made more difficult by unclear chains of possession. And without proper zoning and proof of ownership, residents in these infrastructure-less communities are often unable to access basic city services.

Basilia Carbajal calls Bethania a “marginalized area” and worries about general insecurity in her neighborhood. When it rains, Basilia says, water runs unchecked in the streets of Bethania. On such days, Basilia wraps black plastic bags on the feet of her children so that they won’t be covered in mud when they arrive in their classroom. But most of all, she says, families like hers fear eviction because they don’t have proper paperwork and current tax records.

Concepcion Barrintos lives in another area of the district called Cerro Lindo and faces some of the same issues. She acquired a small lot, but didn’t know it was protected as farmland. “I currently don’t have any legal rights at all to the land,” she says. “I’m a person who does not sit down, however.”

Instead of sitting down, women like Basilia and Concepcion are working with Habitat Bolivia on a project that aims to improve access to urban land and property rights for women and excluded families. The project — administered by Habitat Bolivia in partnership with a slate of national partner organizations — offers a leadership school that focuses on encouraging women to participate in the type of political advocacy required to ultimately reform property regulations and help their families feel more secure. Other project activities include community organization support and, in some instances when tenure is established, small loans for home construction.

“Out of 100 percent, 90 percent of us do not understand property rights,” Concepcion says. “We needed someone to open our eyes and help us understand. I am thankful for the project that has come to District 9. I would just like to say thank you — and to thank God — that you have crossed my path.”