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Habitat highlights women’s needs on International Women’s Day

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Habitat volunteers: Women Build in India

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Women Build Global Village volunteers turn heads in India
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Global Village volunteers built with local volunteers and women homeowners in Hegde Nagar, India
By Phillip Jordan


Arokya Mary, a future Habitat India homeowner, outside her old home in Bangalore.


A pair of Indian sisters stand close to their mother as they meet the international volunteers who will help build their family’s new home in Bangalore.


Sheela, a future Habitat homeowner, welcomes volunteers to the Bangalore build site.


Women from local self-help savings groups listen to speeches and music as part of Habitat India’s celebration of International Women’s Day in Bangalore.


Habitat India partner families welcome international volunteers to Bangalore with necklaces made of jasmine flowers on International Women’s Day.


BANGALORE—Arokya Mary is a widowed mother of three children who lives in a community called Hegde Nagar, just outside Bangalore, India. As her extended family grew to include in-laws and grandchildren, they used whatever materials they could find to expand the house.

Idyllic palm trees offer shade in Arokya’s front yard, but the shade cannot hide the bed sheets, tin, cardboard, straw, wood and rubber that make up the front of the home. The family’s toothbrushes and toothpaste are nestled into a crosswork of thatched straw over the front window.

“It is not a proper home,” Arokya says. “But it is the best I can do on my own.”

A couple streets over, a mother named Sheela returns from her day shift at a garment factory. Sheela’s husband, R. Natarajan, developed severe respiratory problems about five years ago, ending his career as a carpenter.

Since then, she has typically been the lone income-earner for their family, which includes two teenage children. Their tiny, unstable home has long been a source of concern for Sheela.

That concern will soon fade for Sheela, Arokya and 13 of their neighbors.

Nearly 100 volunteers celebrated International Women’s Day, March 8, 2010, by kicking off a Women Build Global Village blitz build in Hegde Nagar. Sixty-two international volunteers, mostly women themselves, came from the United States, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to build alongside Indian partner families and local volunteers.

“I’m very surprised these people have come from such a great distance,” Sheela says of the volunteers working on her family’s home. “I am very moved they would do this. These are educated, skilled people who came so far to do common laborers’ work to help us. They are willing to identify with us and know us on our level.”

Of course, Sheela and Arokya took action to help themselves long before any international volunteers arrived.

The two are among thousands of Bangalore-area women who joined self-help savings groups, pooling their resources to improve their situation. The self-help groups have became agents of change in Hegde Nagar; they have also enabled their members to actively partner with Habitat for Humanity India.

Habitat operates in India solely on the premise of partnership. For the Women Build series, Habitat India is partnering with a community development agency called Brothers Integrated Rural Development Society (BIRDS). Together, the two nonprofits fundraise two-thirds of the average US$3,350 house cost; partner families provide the other third, typically through their involvement in a local savings group.

The need in Hegde Nagar is great. Most of the families living here were relocated from other urban slums. Families did their best to create shelters on their own, but with a lack of supplies and money, many of these shelters offer little protection from the elements, or intruders. Most also lack decent sanitation facilities.

At least 10 to 15 new homes will be completed during this two-week Women Build project—part of Habitat India’s plan to build 150 houses in partnership with women-headed households in Hegde Nagar by 2011.

On International Women’s Day, volunteers took a tour of the build sites and then took part in a community celebration of the holiday—along with more than 2,000 Indian women involved in local self-help savings groups.

Teams then got to work in afternoon heat that reached the low ‘90s—digging trenches, transporting stones to build foundations, and laying blocks to raise walls.

“This is what we came here to do!” says Lynne Brown, a volunteer from Denver, Colorado. Lynne and her husband, Hugh, served in the Peace Corps in Gujarat, India, more than four decades ago. They both chose to make their first return visit to India as part of the 2010 Women Build.

Celebrations in Zambia and Bangladesh
Volunteers in India weren’t the only ones marking International Women’s Day with action.

Habitat for Humanity Zambia launched its 2010 Women Build project in Lusaka, with a public appearance from Zambia’s First Lady, Thandiwe Banda. During its series of volunteer Women Builds, Habitat Zambia aims to raise $500,000 to build 80 new houses that will provide shelter for at least 320 orphans and other vulnerable children.

And Habitat for Humanity Bangladesh hosted a Women Build in its capital city of Dhaka on International Women’s Day. The event also enabled volunteers and partner families to take part in an open dialogue on issues affecting Bangladeshi women.

Learn more about Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build volunteer program.


Families are helping themselves in India (140KB .pdf)
A profile of one of the partner families the Women Build volunteers built with in India.

Celebrating International Women’s Day in a different way
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International Bangladesh gathered over 50 women to build homes with beneficiaries in South Rajashan in Savar.

The international Women Build movement
Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program may have started in the United States, but the movement has quickly spread around the world.