Non-building Habitat special events in Asia/Pacific -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Non-building Habitat special events in Asia/Pacific

By Wong Hiew Peng

Hardhat, hammer, workman gloves, what’s a Habitat for Humanity special event build without one of these? In Asia/Pacific, however, there are a few events that bring Habitat’s name to the fore and garner funds without involving construction.

Take, for example, the Under No Roof (UNR) advocacy project by Habitat for Humanity Singapore. Now in its fifth year, it began in 2003 as a project to raise the awareness of the young people in an affluent nation about the bane of poverty housing. In its inaugural year, UNR 2003 attracted 130 participants, aged between 15 and 30, who had to stay overnight in makeshift cardboard shelters in a park, giving them a taste of the plight of the homeless and those living in substandard housing. The event was organized by HFH Singapore with the help of local student volunteers. The following year, 300 participants signed up for an overnight event, which included scavenging for materials to build their shelters and facilitated discussions on tackling the problem of poverty housing.

The number of UNR participants continued to grow until 2006 when 700 people gathered at a Singapore junior college to spend a night outdoors without their comfortable bedding and go for 30 hours without food. The UNR 2006 was a joint collaboration with World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine event. By 2007, the students had taken over the helm by organizing UNR entirely on their own. More than 170 students from six international schools in Singapore slept under the stars at one of the participating school’s grounds, but in cardboard shelters and having gone without food for 17 hours. The discomfort of spending the night in these quarters in no way deterred the students, who also raised more than S$4,000 (over US$2,600) to support HFH Singapore’s work.

When Singapore held its inaugural UNR project in 2003, Japan did something similar. Seventeen students and two staff from Nagoya International School in western Japan held a successful “Sleep Out” event to raise funds and awareness about homelessness and poverty housing. They spent the night on school grounds in makeshift cardboard shelters and had a dinner of plain rice and water. Stuck to the outside of their cardboard homes were fact sheets on housing issues. In addition to educating their school-mates, the students raised almost 100,000 yen (about US$1,000) towards their Global Village trip.

The success of Singapore’s Under No Roof also inspired two Campus Chapters in the Philippines to organize a similar advocacy event. “Raise the Roof” is a first-time collaboration between the Campus Chapters of Silliman University and Negros Oriental State University at the grounds of the former in Dumaguete City, southern Philippines. In February 2007, over 40 participants took part in a house-building competition building and shared their experiences. They sat on the ground and ate their dinner on banana leaves. The experience enabled the participants to empathize with those living in poverty housing.

The potential of young people to effect change was amply demonstrated in Hong Kong. Late last year, the Hong Kong International School’s Campus Chapter launched a fundraising project, also called Raise the Roof, to support Habitat for Humanity China. To raise awareness, the organizers—an all-girl student team—took a leaf out of the book of Lance Armstrong, the holder of seven consecutive Tour de France records for road racing cycling. Fashioned after his yellow Livestrong wristbands for cancer research, the students designed an orange rubber wristband with the slogan “Raise the Roof” and created informational inserts about Habitat. Partnering with some local retail stores, they sold 10,000 of such wristbands at HK$10 (US$1.30) each. They have since ordered an additional 5,000 wristbands to continue raising funds for tsunami-affected families. Their efforts will culminate in a sleep-out event in April 2007.

Over at South Korea, Habitat and fashion make an unusual but effective pair in raising funds. Instead of professional models strutting the catwalk, ordinary people such as HFH Korea’s board chairman Chung Kun-mo and his wife took to the stage. Each of the 70 “models” contributed 800,000 won (about US$862) to take part. About 800 guests including some Korean movie stars, singers and politicians attended the show in Seoul in January 2007. The program included video clips on Habitat’s work, fashion show and a bazaar. The funds raised came up to 260.2 million Korean Won and will be used to support Women’s Builds in South Korea. This is the sixth fundraising fashion show since 2001 but the first time that non-professional models were featured.

When a Habitat staff member has to wear a tuxedo, one knows that glamor is in the air. In November 2005, more than 340 guests attended a Piaget-Habitat fundraising gala ball in Hong Kong. The event, organized by a benefit committee comprising Hong Kong society women, netted nearly US$700,000 in one evening. Piaget was the title sponsor with other corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Citigroup and Dow Chemical contributing to Habitat’s tsunami reconstruction programs as well as programs in China. Part of the nearly US$700,000 raised also went into supporting Hong Kong’s home improvement programs for the elderly. This year’s gala event in Hong Kong will also feature Piaget as the title sponsor with Citigroup and PMI committing funds. The program lineup includes an appeal for donations for bricks to build a house and a Ferrari car auction.

In India, the traditional “kitty parties” sparked the idea for a Habitat fundraising and advocacy project in Mumbai, west India. Tête-à-tête over tea is not the sole purpose of kitty parties, where wealthier women pool money which will be awarded to one person at the end of the party. The person could then buy what she needed or desired. During Habitat’s coffee mornings, the Women indiaBUILDS committee appeals to high net-worth women in the Mumbai area to donate to a women-led project to transform shelter and lives in Karjat village, west India. As of January 2007, the Women indiaBUILDS committee raised over one-third of its contribution to the 100-house project. To meet the fundraising target, India has planned various initiatives including an art auction in early April 2007. The Women indiaBUILDS campaign is part of Habitat’s ambitious five-year plan to house 250,000 people by 2010.

Wong Hiew Peng is a writer/editor for Habitat’s programs in Asia and the Pacific.