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University students from the United States and Saudi Arabia take part in a joint Habitat for Humanity build in Jordan

GHOR AS SAFI, Jordan (April 2, 2007) — Twenty-four women from Harvard University in the United States and Dar Al-Hekma College in Saudi Arabia met in Jordan over the past 10 days to take part in a Habitat for Humanity building project. The joint effort, called the Hekma-Harvard Women Build, provided an opportunity for women from both cultures not only to help build two homes in the community of Ghor As Safi, but also to exchange ideas and experiences through this unique international project.

The Hekma-Harvard Women Build was a joint effort between both university groups and Habitat for Humanity Jordan. Through the program, which ran from March 24 to April 2, 2007, the participants lived and worked beside each other, and shared in organized exchanges with Jordanian political figures, local youth and nongovernmental organizations.

“This effort really called on the strengths of each of the contributing organizations,” said Philip Griffith, director of the Habitat for Humanity Jordan program. “Each of these two universities contributed some of their brightest young women, and Habitat for Humanity provided a build site in a local community in Jordan.”

The two groups were linked initially through U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Senior Advisor for Women’s Empowerment, Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli. Eager to help link women in the Saudi Kingdom with women in the United States, Ambassador Tahir-Kheli’s office contacted Harvard University, where the idea for the joint build was circulated to students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Habitat for Humanity became involved when Ambassador Tahir-Kheli’s office contacted Habitat for Humanity International in Washington, D.C. The partnership has enjoyed support and participation from the State Department’s top level officials, including Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Ambassador Karen Hughes, who visited Dar Al-Hekma College in 2005, and Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Powell.

U.S. ambassador to Jordan, David Hale, said “this initiative brought to Jordan young women from different religions and backgrounds in the name of understanding, respect and community service. This kind of dialogue helps to strengthen the relationships between our people and, thus, our nations. The U.S. Department of State is proud to have partnered with Habitat for Humanity, Dar Al-Hekma College in Saudi Arabia, Harvard University and the people of Jordan on this exciting program.”

“We thought Jordan would provide an excellent backdrop for such an exchange,” Griffith added. “Bringing the students together in a country that is new to most of them helps to strengthen the bonds between participants.”

Interested students from both schools applied to be considered for the program. From those applicants, 10 from each school were selected. Each group was then led by two team leaders, bringing to 24 the number of total participants — the largest group Habitat for Humanity Jordan has ever hosted.

“Habitat for Humanity is really about bringing people together for a common purpose,” Griffith said. “We thought this was the perfect opportunity to bring these two unique groups of women together.”

About Habitat for Humanity Jordan
Habitat for Humanity Jordan was founded in 2001, and now works in five communities throughout the country. Using a community-based housing program that integrates credit, volunteerism and a sense of common purpose — based on a model developed by Habitat for Humanity International — Habitat for Humanity Jordan has thus far completed 250 houses, and is seeking to expand to other communities.

About Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since its founding in Americus, Ga., in 1976, Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses in nearly 100 countries, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1 million people. For more information, visit www.habitat.org.