From time to time, while traveling through America, we would come across a church or other building which displayed a large sign proclaiming the activities of Habitat for Humanity. I was always curious about the signs and what they represented. So when we passed through Georgia, we made a stop in Americus at the International headquarters and took a tour of the facilities. Here we met a most delightful gentleman who became our guide for the afternoon. David Bottomley who originally hailed from Bradford England, retired from the textile industry and has been working with Habitat for Humanity since 1999. A most energetic and enthusiastic guide, he took us through the original Habitat neighborhood, then on to the Easter Morning Community, the largest community construction ever undertaken by Habitat and finally to the newly designed Global Village which is still under construction. Our tour started at the headquarters building from 1978 to 1987 at 419 Church St. This amazing story had its beginning in the small southwest Georgia town of Americus. Fired by a vision of a world with no more shacks, in which every family would have the opportunity to live in a simple, decent house. Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda, founded Habitat for Humanity International. Using their experiences building houses in partnership with poor families of Koinonia, a nearby Christian community, and as Disciples of Christ missionaries in the former Zaire, the Fullers began working out of a small office in Americus. 25 years since its beginning, Habitat for Humanity has built more then 100,000 houses around the world. The ultimate mission is the eradication of inadequate shelter, wherever it exists in the world. The organization is broken down into Affiliates. An affiliate is an independent nonprofit organization responsible for directing habitat house building work in its community. Although Habitat International offers advise and assistance, all affiliates are responsible for the legal, organizational, fund raising, and financial requirements, as well as doing the work needed. We were invited to watch an introductory video which explained the beginnings and the basics of what makes this most unusual organization work. At the International center, volunteers make up a solid core of the work force. Some 33 houses have been bought and rehabbed for living quarters for the 100 to 150 volunteers. In addition a stipend is offered to cover such expenses as food and other domestic coasts. As we drove slowly down the neat clean streets looking at the well kept houses, Dave explained that many of them had been built in the 1980s and were still occupied by the original owners or their descendants. I marveled at the cleanliness of the community. So often I had been witness to America's give away programs falling apart in filth and disrepair soon after their construction. The quality of this community fascinated me. "Habitat for Humanity is no giveaway program", Dave assured me, Each prospective owner must qualify for acceptance into the program. The homes are not for the integrant. A working income is a requirement, for there is a mortgage to be paid back to Habitat, and there are definite restrictions on selling the property while still under mortgage, such as it can only be sold back to Habitat. Still, those who do qualify, could have never qualified under the financial burden of a conventional home loan. What they lack in financial ability is made up in what Dave called "sweat equity". Each recipient must work on the building project themselves, at what ever level they are capable. Hundreds of hours of work are normally spent as a replacement for financial ability. This is often spread out over a longer period time involving work on several other houses. From here we drove to the edge of town to visit the Easter Morning Community. Situated on 63 acres, this development will ultimately house some 142 houses. Each house designed as a single family dwelling on a full 1/3 acre of land. Desiring to avoid the "cookey cutter" appearance, Habitat produced many different floor plans and color schemes. Recipients are able to pick their own. Many of the houses have concrete roof tiles after a generous donation by the manufacturer. Basements were avoided, with the houses being leveled by brick supports. This often left a crawl space under the structure. Street lights and paved roads were donated by the city of Americus. The subdivision gets it name from the building experience. In 1998, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday, 20 homes were constructed in a blitz building challenge. Team work and planning were the key factors. In 1999, again the Holy Week saw hundreds of construction workers descend on the community to build 25 homes over the same period. Like wise in the year 2000, 30 home were constructed. From here we moved on to the high point of the visit. The Global Village. Here are reproductions of the structures that have been built in the many countries that Habitat has been operating in. Although only in its infancy, the village already is a fascinating place which clearly shows the challenges and accomplishments which have been met. Set against a mural covering one wall. The interlocking mud bricks used to build homes in Sri Lanka and Fiji were displayed. These blocks are resistant to earthquakes. Each block has a slot through it and holes with raised rims. The blocks interlock and grout is poured into the rectangular slots. Reinforcement bars can be inserted into the round holes for support. The bricks are made on site with the use of a small hand press. Two people working for one week can make enough bricks for a normal house. The bricks must sit in the shade for about two weeks before they are ready to use. Families often earn their sweat-equity required of each family by making these bricks. The conditions change from country to country depending on what is available. Ingenuity is part of the process, figuring out what will work best under which circumstances. This was both an informative and interesting afternoon. It is amazing what can be done when people of good heart and faith put their heads and hands together for the good of mankind.
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