Decent shelter is the foundation of poverty alleviation
One simple Math question: currently there are 7.4 Billion people in the world, 1.6 Billion people are living in a poor condition, then what is the percentage of this bunch of people? The answer is 21.6%. A safe, decent home is the spiritual pillar of everybody; yet in the world, one in five people is living in a poor condition. How serious this situation is! Heron Holloway, the CEO of Habitat of Humanity Hong Kong, says, “If you don’t have a decent home, then any improvements to education, health, will never take hold.” To her, having a decent shelter is the foundation to make poverty alleviation possible. Hence Habitat for Humanity’s vision is “A world everyone has a decent place to live”.
Achieving this vision is not easy. Since every country has its own housing situation, Habitat for Humanity can never lump different matters together: while some countries need to build new houses from scratch; some countries need rebuilding after disaster; in other places Habitat might be doing renovations; in other countries it might be securing land rights for disadvantage groups, so they own the land on which they build the houses. “There is no way that we can ever achieve our vision by doing it on our own.” Heron says, “We have to work in partnership with others.” Not only does Habitat work with families (Of course – Habitat must have to know the real needs of families), it also works with local and national government, local NOGs, micro-financing institutions that offer housing loans to low-income families, manufacturers of construction. The partnership even extends to multinational organizations say the United Nations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Fact proves again how tremendous the power of collaboration is – In 2015, Habitat improved shelter to nearly 1.8 Million people; by 2020, it will provide shelter to 15 Million people.
We work as one against catastrophe
Habitat emphasizes the importance of partnership in the context of after-disaster. Heron mentions that shelter is victims’ immediate need right after water, food and medical care. It’s very important that different NGOs or humanitarian agencies collaborate and work together to ensure the affected families get help of what they need ASAP. Habitat signed an agreement on how to collaborate and support each other after disaster with the UN, to ensure all humanitarian agencies were going to provide shelter in the same way to the same level of standard to the victims. “It’s too late if we start to think when disaster strikes.” Heron explains, “The more agreements we can arrange way before the disaster, the more possible we will save as many people as possible in the shortest time.”
Heron also shares to us that years ago the United Nations has implemented the Cluster System, which has been proven as a great success. The 11 clusters consist of relative leading organizations and partnering agencies. There are Protection, Food Security, Water Sanitation cluster, etc. Habitat belongs to the Shelter Cluster. The idea of the Cluster System is whenever a disaster strikes, all humanitarian agencies will get together, having meeting on regular basis, confirming rules and division of labors, sharing information, to ensure a high and fast response of rescue.
Witnessing heavy devastation and casualties after disaster always tears our heart. To Heron, what she has gone through after the Japan earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 might eventually be a mark in her life that never goes away. “About 3 weeks after the earthquake and Tsunami happened, I went with the first team of Habitat Japanese student volunteers, heading to the area called Ofunato by bus. I remember well that, when our bus came up over the mountain top, we look outside the window. The flat land in front of us – basically all the flat land between the mountain and the sea – was like the biggest rubbish dump you have ever seen. EVERYTHING was GONE. And there was nothing standing anymore. The bus until that point had been bunch of students laughing, listening to music, talking, like a school trip. But at the moment they saw the devastation in front of them, they were absolute silent on the bus. And one by one, every single person on the bus started to cry.” It was a very emotional trip to the students, because Japan was their land, their country. And whereas before, the students had been building houses, giving hope to life and mind; in that trip, they actually cleared away debris of life and mind.
Despite the inevitability of natural catastrophe, there are humanitarian agencies like Habitat for Humanity, always devoting all their efforts against disaster and to save life. Isn’t it a perfect practice of our JCI Creed, “the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations”?
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