Development of Habitat Resource Centers in Asia/Pacific -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Development of Habitat Resource Centers in Asia/Pacific

By Wong Hiew Peng

Habitat for Humanity started helping families in the Asia-Pacific region to build decent and affordable homes in 1983. Three decades later, it was time to take stock of the progress. Habitat’s leadership in the Asia-Pacific region began looking at ways to increase the scale and sustainability of its programs. The traditional affiliate model served Habitat well, and would continue to be an important way for helping families. But to create real scale and sustainability and thereby have greater impact on the misery of poverty housing, there needed to be a better way of doing things, according to Charlie Ayco, director of program development and support at Habitat for Humanity’s Asia-Pacific area office.

A key way to create impact and extend Habitat’s reach to more families is the innovative Habitat Resource Center (HRC) concept. HRCs take a flexible approach to providing building resources and skills to affiliates and their home partners, partner organizations and communities. An HRC involves “the use of appropriate technology, training of volunteers, site managers, and project managers in the ‘Habitat project management way’, developing vendor programs for access to more affordable basic construction materials, and propagation of ‘best practices’ and ‘lessons learned’ across the entire HFH Philippines family,” said Alberto Jugo, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Philippines.

An HRC should be considered as a network of expertise rather than a physical location. “HRC has nothing to do with its physical location, as it is a ‘knowledge business,’” said Jugo.

More importantly, HRCs can be a completely alternate model for Habitat operations in a country. The range of services provided by an HRC varies from country to country. The services can include but are not limited to:

Construction services:
The key resource center service is construction management. Engineers and specialists offer design and architectural services, including earthquake-resistant designs for disaster response projects and multi-story designs for urban housing needs. In the Philippines, the resource center[1] is noted for the use of the cost-effective concrete interlocking block technology and the lightweight steel frame technology.

HRC staff can also supervise construction and provide expertise in logistics, procurement and transportation. Some resource centers train local workers and homepartner families in construction methods and skills. Others, such as the one in Meulaboh, Indonesia, produce materials like bricks for Habitat homes. Materials produced in excess may be sold to a wider market to generate jobs and income for homeowners.

Skills training:
Resource centers train local construction workers in traditional and alternative approaches to masonry, woodwork, painting and other building practices, and they transfer knowledge to local supervisors, enabling them to plan and run complete housing projects. With some training, homepartners are not only able to build their own houses but also help others in the community to construct their homes.

Disaster response:
HRCs work with partners and provide project management knowledge and technical resources. This was the model used for reconstruction in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand after the countries were devastated by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The HRC in Chennai, south India, continues to build for tsunami-affected families. In the Philippines, the resource center built 330 homes and an eight-classroom school building in Southern Leyte for families affected by massive landslides in February 2006. The resource center completed the work in less than four months. This was accomplished even though the Philippines did not have an affiliate in Southern Leyte, and personnel and construction materials had to make a four- to five-hour journey to reach the build sites.

Housing microfinance:
Resource centers may also partner with microfinance institutions or nongovernmental organizations with microfinance expertise to transform entire communities. At HFH Philippines’ 1,000-house project in BASECO in Manila, the Center for Community Transformation, Habitat’s local partner and a nongovernmental organization (NGO), offers housing microfinance services to Habitat homepartner families.

Habitat for Humanity operates HRCs in countries such as India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vanuatu. In July 2006, HFH Bangladesh also adopted the HRC concept. Two divisional HRCs have been formed in Jessore and Mymensingh, consolidating affiliates’ strengths in mobilizing volunteers, collecting repayments, community development and fund raising. The HRC concept has boosted staff morale, increased house building and community mobilization in terms of forming women’s savings groups, said Kyle Scott, regional program manager for South Asia. The HRC concept is expected to be fully functional in Bangladesh by 2009.

In the early stage of its development, the HRC was variously known as a “building center,” “building and training center,” “building and resource center,” or “disaster response technical center.” It was after the concept was developed further that the standard title of a Habitat Resource Center was conceived. If necessary, the title can include a special focus, “Habitat Resource Center – Disaster Response”.

Inspiration for HRCs

The HRC had its roots in brainstorming efforts to respond to the Gujarat earthquake in India and to work with microfinance organizations in Bangladesh. In 2001 Todd Garth, then regional director for South Asia, explored ways to encourage affiliates to reach scale with limited resources. He found inspiration in the model of community participation and partnership that characterized the success of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi and the Nirmithi Movement, or building movement, in India, and drafted a concept paper for consideration by the AP senior management team.

Akhtar Hameed Khan started the Orangi Pilot Project[2] (OPP) in 1980 as a Pakistan NGO’s response to an informal community’s need for sanitation facilities. With its 1.2 million people, Orangi is the largest katchi abad (poor people’s housing) in Karachi, the biggest Pakistan city. In the absence of government aid, the Orangi community rallied to research and design its own innovative low-cost interventions, financed and constructed completely by the community. Over time, the OPP developed programs in various areas such as health, housing, education support services, microfinance and income generation. More than 94,000 houses were built and 72,000 sanitary latrines were installed.

The OPP does not implement the projects but by providing social and technical guidance, it encourages communities to mobilize local resources and take action themselves.

In a similar way, the Nirmithi Movement[3] started in 1985 when India’s first Nirmithi Kendra (building center) was set up in the Quilon district of Kerala by the then District Collector to provide affordable solutions to housing. The building centers aim to disseminate and promote cost-effective and environmentally friendly building technology in India. The building centers also ensure sustainability by manufacturing and marketing cost-effective building materials, as well as providing construction skills training to local artisans. In the space of several years, more than 385 building centers were set up all over India, constructing homes with an average 30 per cent cost savings, and over 55,0000 masons, carpenters, bar benders and plumbers were trained.


Conclusion

As sustainable housing is the centerpiece of Habitat's work, HRCs help forward this aim in ways such as promoting cost-effective, appropriate and environmentally friendly building technology, transfer of such skills to local people, and manufacturing materials for use in construction and sale as means of livelihood. HRCs are thus instrumental in fulfilling two main goals of Habitat for Humanity’s strategic five-year plan–namely exponentially increasing the number of families served annually, and leading the transformation of systems that impact affordable housing.

Wong Hiew Peng is a writer for HFH in Asia and the Pacific.


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[1] HFH Philippines calls the resource center the Habitat Building and Resource Center.

[2] The Orangi Pilot Project was cited as an example integrating stakeholders under the Good Practices Suite, UNESCAP Virtual Conference website. Go to http://www.unescap.org/DRPAD/VC/conference/ex_pk_5_opp.htm

[3] The Nirmithi Movement in India is cited as a best practice in “Best Practices for Human Settlements” presented in the MOST Clearing House Best Practices Database. MOST (Management of Social Transformations) Program is under the United Nations’ Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Visit http://www.unesco.org/most/asia5.htm and http://www.unesco.org/most/asia4.htm