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Habitat for Humanity

Monday, 06 February 2017

It's been a busy time for OM Peter Holland working with Habitat for Humanity which is an NGO aimed at fighting the global housing crisis.  In November last year he built two houses in Samoa with a group from New Zealand and Australia and in January this year he went to Manila from where he sent this report.

The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1565 till 1898, hence there is a large Roman Catholic majority and many Spanish customs are practised. Following the Spanish-American war in 1898 it was ruled by the USA till granted independence in 1946. Growth among Protestant & Independent churches continues, particularly among the indigenous Pentecostal denominations and there is an openness to spiritual issues, perhaps reflecting American influence. You often see Bible verses or texts in unlikely places, e.g. “Glory to God in the Highest” on the back of a motor-cycle.

It is Asia's most Christianised nation, yet also the fourth most corrupt. It is estimated that over 30% of the population (101 million) live below the poverty line (about US$1 daily). As in developing countries there is a tremendous disparity between the rich & the poor. 

The Filipino Church is now a significant missionary-sending Church. With over 50 000 evangelical congregations and a widespread diaspora (over 8 million), the potential is great. Filipino cultural flexibility, resilience in difficult environments, good education, language skills (including the use of English) and positive foreign relations all weigh heavily in favour of Filipino missionaries.

The global mission statement of Habitat for Humanity is a “world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live”. We were a big team of 18 members, 12 ladies & 6 chaps; ladies tend to outnumber the chaps on these occasions. Three members came from overseas – two chaps from the US (perhaps to escape the winter?) & one Australian lady from Singapore. The Aussies hailed from different parts of eastern Australia, mainly NSW & Victoria; there was even an Anglican minister from Coolum Beach (Qld).

The Philippines is a country in great need. As you probably know, there are often reports of terrible natural disasters that cause huge loss of life and/or widespread damage to property etc. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (also called Super Typhoon Yolanda) tore through the Philippines, destroying 1.1 million homes and displacing 4 million people. Relocating and rebuilding are just part of the challenge for the families affected. The typhoon destroyed not just houses, but communities and livelihoods as well, and there is still work to be done to give the families affected by Haiyan secure shelter and brighter futures. Bantayan Island, where our build site was located, was absolutely decimated as it lay right in the path of Typhoon Haiyan. This island lies near the centre of the country off the north of Cebu Island, shown below.

Bantayan Island

There were people filling sandbags & carrying them to the spot where the cement mixer was located, cement bags and water were also carried there. When the mortar was ready, it was poured into buckets for conveyance to the actual site, where others had carried the hollow concrete blocks to be used in the construction. One day I joined a team of three making reinforcing bars; my job was to cut the lengths of wire to attach to the reinforcing bars and pass them to the others; this was relaxing as I spent the day in shade! After the brick work had been completed the wall would be rendered / painted and the roof built. Obviously the houses would compare unfavourably with Australian houses but they are adequate in a developing country.

Our team constructed 4 duplexes during the week up to the roof , i.e. 8 actual units; a duplex consists of two semi-detached units; there are six rows of blocks from the ground level to the roof level. The units, each housing a family, have a floor area of 30 square metres. We worked with Filipinos, who were always on hand to guide the project.

On a personal note, many of us enjoyed a refreshing swim after work before dinner as our chalets were at the water's edge. After the build I travelled south in Cebu Island to a tourist spot where I went in a dug-out canoe among whale sharks who were being continually fed by boatmen; whale sharks are considered to be the gentle giants of the sea.

Peter HollandDoing building work in a developing country is an interesting way of seeing a country and allows you to have the opportunity to build a home for a family in need with your own hands. By working alongside a family building their own safe shelter, you give them an opportunity to be independent and have healthier, happier, more secure futures. A home provides a place where children can be better nourished and educated; parents can also start a business and earn an income. 

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