Home is more than just a word in the dictionary.
It is a shelter, a residence, and most importantly, a place where family is formed.
In Kuching, we may not see homeless people camping underneath the road flyovers, but there are people who are struggling and forced to live in sub-standard housing.
These people are struggling each day for decent personal space, proper sanitary system and befitting home maintenance. It is in this context that Habitat for Humanity Malaysia is relevant to Sarawak.
Habitat for Humanity International is a global non-profit Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing; by building simple, decent and affordable houses for the families in need.
Habitat’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat for Humanity was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller back in 1976 and operates in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Its Mission Statement reads: ‘Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope’.
Habitat’s vision: “a world where everyone has a decent place to live”.
In its practice the organisation advocates for affordable housing, promotes dignity and hope and support sustainable and transformational development.
Habitat for Humanity attracts a number of well-known personalities as its volunteers. Perhaps the most famous is Jimmy Carter, the former US president.
In 1984 Jimmy and Rosalynn led a work group to New York City to help renovate a six-storey building with 19 families in need of decent, affordable shelter.
Habitat began working in the Asia Pacific region in 1983 covering Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. By 2013, it has helped 59,129 families.
Habitat for Humanity Malaysia opened its doors in Kuching in October 1998 with Pastor John Chin serving as its first president.
Five years later in 2004, an office was set up in Kota Kinabalu, led by Allen Tong.
In 2005, another office was opened in Kuala Lumpur, which is now home to the National Office and the National Board of Trustees.
Since it started in 1998, Habitat Malaysia has served more than 200 families through its resource centers in Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu affiliates.
As of 31 March 2014, Habitat Kuching has completed 126 houses, Habitat Kuala Lumpur 60 and Kota Kinabalu 37 houses.
Habitat Kuching engages youth volunteers, from overseas and local institutions e.g. Mount Kiara International School of Kuala Lumpur, British International School of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and students from Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak.
Habitat Kuching will be hosting Malaysia’s first ever blitz build project, where 14 houses will be constructed in just six days from 14 – 19 September 2014.
This project ‘Borneo Blitz Build’ will take place at Jalan Stephen Yong, where 1.25 acres of land was donated to Habitat Kuching by a philanthropist.
The Borneo Blitz Build Project has been endorsed by Padawan Municipal Council and supported by Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development.
The main sponsors of the project include: Naim Holdings Berhad, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), Procter & Gamble and The Spring Mall.
Pre-construction works for Borneo Blitz Build Project have started on site and individual volunteers are welcomed.
The dates to volunteer are: 20 July, 9 and 10 August. Those interested can contact Habitat Kuching at: 082 429 700 or email: [email protected]
The story of two beneficiaries
Nancy is a 46-years-old single mother since 11 years ago.
Tests and trials in life do not break her, because she knows that she has to take care of three young children in the absence of her husband.
She has a decent job, working as a shift leader in Malaysian Airlines System (MAS) Catering.
What she earns each month is only enough to fend for herself and to provide for her children.
The children soon outgrew the small wooden house. Over years, the wooden house has aged and started to rot.
Habitat for Humanity came into the picture by helping Nancy construct a new brick house at Kampung Dangak.
Nancy is deemed more fortunate, for she has a small piece of land and a small wooden house to start with.
Jobly and his family were squatters for a decade long. The man struggled hard to provide for his family. He has been a general worker for the past 20 years, earning a meagre income.
His wife tried to supplement the household income by working as part time cleaner in a shopping complex.
The family dreamed of having their own home but with the rising cost living and building materials hiking, the dream proved to be elusive.
Jobly saved for ten years to buy materials for their house but it was just enough for a few cement blocks.
With Habitat’s help Jobly was able to complete the family house. His is a success story, for now he is not only a home partner but a co-worker.
Jobly currently works at the site for Habitat for Humanity, helping other needy people building their dreams.
A chat with a long serving staff
In a recent visit to the Habitat for Humanity Kuching office, writer Faith Wong had a chance to post some questions to Angelina Tong the office manager, who is the longest serving staff in Kuching.
Faith Wong: There are probably others that are in greater needs than people like Nancy and Jobly. Why Habitat for Humanity chose people like Nancy and Jobly over them?
Angelina: First off, Habitat for Humanity is not a giveaway programme. It is here to help provide for those families that need a lift.
Our home owners/partners must be able to pay the cost of house building into a revolving fund in order for this programme to be sustained and be successful.
We will help to refer those who are in dire need and are unable to make repayment to other organisations, clubs, associations or churches.
Sometimes, we have sponsors that are willing to shoulder the repayment approaching us too.
Faith Wong: What would you say is different from the time you first joined Habitat for Humanity after serving for 14 long years?
Angelina: I have definitely become smarter. When we work for a charity body, we cannot deny that sometimes our compassion clouds our judgment.
I have misjudged some and learned some, especially in terms of repayment.
There are also times where potential home owners/partners that withdraw necessary information deliberately.
Our disadvantage is that we cannot run financial checks with the bank or financial institution, but we can verify with supervisors or employers.
Faith Wong: On average, I understand that there are hundreds of applicants. What is your priority?
Angelina: We build for the greatest needs first.
There are times when applicants are made homeless overnight because of fire or other disasters. We have to cater to their needs first.
In fact, we are quite flexible in our selection. We try our best to help all that qualified as home owners/partners.
Faith Wong: What is your view on alternatives in home building, like cheaper materials, shorter construction time and so on?
Angelina: We are open to all possible ways that are proven workable and affordable to the home owners/partners.
Generally, I think the main issues are land acquisition and acceptance.
If there is adequate market research that shows that certain alternative construction is widely acceptable by Malaysians, we will gladly adopt the idea.
Malaysia is different, say, from Nepal where they widely adopt bamboo as building material like corrugated roofing sheets and woven bamboo mats for wall panels.
Faith Wong: Besides helping home owners/partners in getting a decent house, what else can Habitat for Humanity do for the people?
Angelina: For cases that we handle here, we follow up them through family mentoring.
We educate them on financial and home maintenance. We travel and conduct talks in the kampungs on these matters.
We also frequently visit District Offices to talk to Ketua Kampung, Penghulu or Pemanca.