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“Striving to Make Life Better” -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

“Striving to Make Life Better”

By Jonathan Reckford



This issue of Habitat World celebrates the amazing contributions that women make to the ministry of Habitat for Humanity and the incredible stories of women who hold their families together all around the world.

I was born into a family of strong women. My grandmother, Millicent Fenwick, was a New Jersey congresswoman who was widely known for her commitment to justice issues. She drafted the legislation that resulted in the formation of the Helsinki Commission to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Accord on human rights. She challenged me at an early age to “be useful” to those in need in our world.

I sometimes marvel at her life. She was born in 1910 — the same year that Clara Zetkin of Germany proposed the first International Women’s Day and 10 years before the 19th Amendment was passed in the U.S., giving women the right to vote.

She lived during an era that changed the lives of women dramatically in many parts of the world, so much so that it is hard to fathom the conditions under which many women live today. Too frequently, land tenure for women — many of whom have no assets, no resources and no power — is almost entirely dependent on the men with whom they are associated. A widowed, separated or divorced woman in many locations is left homeless because she has no rights to the land on which she lives.

Yet in Habitat’s work, we see the powerful spirit of women who can overcome the most difficult of circumstances to make life better for their children. In Asia, women organize savings groups that support housing opportunities for each member family. When new housing designs in Brazil resulted in women no longer having to spend much of each day collecting water, the ladies developed an income-producing business. And a recent Women Build project in Africa drew great support to help orphans and vulnerable children.

I will always be grateful for the influence my grandmother had upon my life. Every time I saw her, she would recite Micah 6:8 from the Bible, a verse that explains clearly our call to be just and merciful and to walk humbly with God. Often identified as the inspiration for Doonesbury’s Lacey Davenport character, Grandma was a colorful family icon who demonstrated bold determination in taking up the cause of those who need an advocate to make their lives better. May we all be so bold in our efforts to reach out a hand to those in need of affordable housing.