No grass grows here…
Several hundred people living in an area half the size of a football field. An uneven, gullied path. No electricity, no running water. Structures pieced together from scraps of wood and tin, pieces of plastic and cardboard. Barefoot children run along dirt walkways. Women fetch drinking water from a stagnant creek. No grass grows here. The scene is typical of the shantytowns of South Africa. It is estimated that more than 7 million people make their homes in settlements like this throughout the country.
But in 2002, in a single week, Habitat for Humanity helped 100 South African families escape that lifestyle. The 2002 Jimmy Carter Work Project in Durban resulted in the Ethembeni community; Ethembeni is a Zulu word meaning “place of hope.”
The community continues to grow. Over the past year, 40 new houses have been added to the original 100, and 210 more are planned over the course of the next few years.
Habitat for Humanity’s presence in South Africa is evident beyond the borders of Ethembeni. In a 2003 parliamentary media briefing, Minister of Housing Brigitte Mabandla acknowledged the importance of “beneficiary participation in the construction of their houses”; she even used the term “sweat equity” to describe the labor contributed by homeowners. Mabandla also discussed the increased involvement this style of housing assistance provides for women and youth.
Youth involvement in building is definitely on the rise. Habitat for Humanity clubs are at work in some of South Africa’s largest universities, and they are in the process of becoming official campus chapters. In June 2003, students in the Habitat club at the University of Stellenbosch, along with students at the University of Cape Town, coordinated an “International Student Build” to invite young people from around the world to share in the Habitat experience.
In some ways, youth involvementand what it promises for reconciliation among the racesis one of the most impressive things about Habitat for Humanity’s work in South Africa. Homeowner Mambo Mkhize puts it eloquently: “What can I say about Habitat for Humanity? I discovered that Habitat is not for the present people only; it is for the generations to come, and generations to come, and generations to come….”