2006: ‘Beyond imagination’ in India

Aziz Sheikh’s face lights up whenever he talks about his experience during the 2006 Carter Work Project — and life after it.

Aziz and his wife, Sandhya, worked with the Carters during the weeklong build. Six months after moving into his Habitat house, the 45-year-old driver for a Lonavala-based transportation company still marveled at such famous volunteers: “It was beyond my imagination that President Carter would come to build with me,” he said. “When the Carters worked on my house, it was as if they were working on their own house. We worked like equals.”

Aziz and his family of four used to live in a much smaller house. “Our house now is twice the size of our rental house,” Sandhya says. “My kids skate in the house. Can you imagine that?”

The Habitat house is not only larger. It also gives the family an indoor bathroom and a water storage tank — a tremendous improvement over the outdoor communal toilet they used to share with several other families and a sewerage pipe located just outside their rental house. The Sheikhs also have been able to afford a new motorcycle, making the children’s trips to school much more manageable.

The security and embrace of their new community — 100 houses built during the week of the Carter Work Project — gives the Sheikhs peace of mind. Families gather to celebrate festivals and look out for each other. “I never have to worry about the safety of my family,” Aziz says. “Even when I travel far for work, there is always someone around. Usually, if you leave your slippers outside (the house) in any other village, they will get stolen. Over here, nothing gets stolen.”

Aziz thinks you can see the difference in his family. “If you look at our old photos, we were very skinny. Now we’ve become healthy,” he says.

“I loved the willingness of the Habitat volunteers to help the less fortunate,” he adds. “It’s a rare thing to see. Other people like us should have a chance to fulfill our dreams.”