The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | October / November 2001
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Behind the Scenes:
Facing Challenges in Affiliate Development in Russia

What to pack: a few items for warm weather, many items for cold weather and, of course, presentation materials, files and plenty of patience...

"One Family" Shares 25 Years of Habitat's Work
One Family at a Time, a special 25th anniversary book, celebrates Habitat for Humanity International’s past quarter-century of working to eliminate substandard housing around the world. The collector’s edition tells Habitat’s story of service through poignant homeowner profiles and more than 250 striking color photographs. Making its debut at HFHI’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and Global Leadership Conference in Indianapolis in September, One Family at a Time may be purchased at Our House by calling Habitat at (800) 422-5914 or by checking with your local bookseller. Andrews McMeel Publishers is handling bookstore distribution for the book, which sells for $25US.


International partner Melissa Lenk packed her bags and recently moved to Orel, Russia, to assist local interest groups in forming Russia’s first Habitat for Humanity affiliates. Years in the making, Habitat’s presence in Russia was requested by citizens who had visited the United States and had seen the Habitat model at work.

The coming year will be heavy on paperwork for the Russian communities hoping to start affiliates. Interest group members attend Habitat for Humanity education sessions and work on building a diverse board, writing an operations manual of policies and defining the criteria for the people they want to help in their communities. If all goes well, the groups may be invited to become Habitat affiliates in spring 2002, after a meeting of Habitat’s international board of directors.

Local interest groups and HFHI are being careful to establish policies to win support from the Russian people and the government, Lenk says. Despite the need for affordable housing—40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line—many Russians are skeptical of a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization. The government plays an important role in decisions regarding land and infrastructure, she says, and success without this support would be difficult.

But there is hope: Local interest has been maintained for several years, and reputable leadership may in time establish a new standard of nonprofit behavior in Russia.

As the Russian interest groups busily sort through details, Lenk may experience some tests of her own. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, Lenk knows enough about the area’s culture to expect some challenges.

“One of the most difficult aspects of my life for Russians to understand is that I’m a vegetarian,” Lenk says. “Many Russians continually try to coax me to eat ‘just a small piece of kilbasa (sausage)’ or ‘Melissa, the sala (pig fat) is excellent.’ This can sometimes be difficult to get out of without offending one’s host.”

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