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Volunteer experts bring new hope to South Asian tsunami victims
28 June 2005

Six months after the devastating tsunami, Habitat for Humanity is developing effective approaches to provide houses to families in need. 

While local authorities in stricken areas continue to formulate public policies on where and how rebuilding can take place, Habitat for Humanity has put in place systems and infrastructure to assist tens of thousands of families in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand over the next two years.

“Through our strong network and expertise in community organization and construction, we are utilizing technical centres, partnerships and volunteers in order to get people out of the camps and into permanent housing in a sustainable, structured and efficient matter,” said Steve Weir, vice president for Habitat for Humanity programmes in Asia and the Pacific.

Skilled international volunteers supplement local staff and volunteers in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Volunteers bring not only skills, but sorely needed encouragement and energy as they build alongside local volunteers and homeowners. Teams of technical college students and representatives of corporate donors such as Lowe’s and Dow and other supporting groups are also participating in Habitat’s tsunami recovery efforts.

Since the first team went to Sri Lanka in March, 30 teams of 12-15 people from around the world have spent one to two weeks building Habitat homes in tsunami-stricken areas. More than 40 corporate, donor and First Builder teams are scheduled to work in the four tsunami-affected countries over the next few months.

In addition to building homes, Habitat is developing technical centres that not only provide building materials and training, but employ people who have lost their livelihoods in the tsunami. In Sri Lanka, for example, where coastal homes are made of concrete blocks, Habitat’s Batticaloa affiliate on the east coast is employing local community members in a block-making enterprise. Mobile block-making operations will soon be located in three additional communities.

A tsunami response technical centre in southern Thailand’s Phang Nga province is producing vibrated concrete roofing tiles. “This is an environmentally-sound building solution as well as an economic boost to the community,” said Geoffrey Wheeler who heads the operation.

Habitat’s tsunami response technical centres are a flexible concept. At some centres, the emphasis is on experienced and novice construction personnel and construction supervisors receiving training on Habitat, partner and community work sites. At others, people are learning to make concrete blocks, roofing tiles, window and door frames, roof trusses and other building components. Materials are manufactured and stored under controlled conditions, either on the construction site or at warehouses and production facilities that serve several building locations.

The US-based Habitat is partnering and cooperating with other non-governmental organizations, religious entities, corporations, civic groups and governments to provide the housing component of community development projects. It has raised US$50 million for tsunami reconstruction in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand from corporations and individuals around the world.