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For several years, I volunteered my professional services to Habitat World, the official magazine of Habitat for Humanity International. Most exciting were the assignments to cover the Jimmy Carter Work Project, a week-long blitz build led by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Decent Shelter: A Desperate Dream

This was the lead story from the 1999 JCWP in the Philippines. It outlined the overwhelming need for decent housing in that country.

As Terry McCormick of Houston, Texas, worked on the house Houston HFH sponsored at the 1999 Jimmy Carter Work Project in Maragondon, he noticed a Filipino man working tirelessly.

"Is this your house?" McCormick asked. "No," the man said. "It's only a dream."

For seven million Filipino families - nearly half the country's population - owning a simple, decent house is just that...a dream.

HFH Philippines estimates that 35 million of the nation's 73 million men, women and children live in substandard housing. The highest concentration of the country's poor live in squatters' shacks in the capital city of Manila.

Drawn from the provinces by the prospect of jobs and education, they provide the backbone of the city's manual and service labor force. Against a backdrop of economic boom - high-rise construction is everywhere in downtown Manila - they toil for little more than the equivalent of pocket change, eking out day-to-day survival wages and sleeping in parks, doorways or abandoned concrete pipes.

Read the full article.

Keeping the Faith

After five years of writing for the magazine, I finally got the chance to interview the Carters on a job site in Harlem, one of the sites of the 2000 JCWP. I was told to prepare my three best questions because I’d have five minutes. It was one of the longest five minutes of my life. Being three feet away from a former president is fairly awe-inspiring.

Out on a morning jog during a visit to New York City in 1984, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter stopped at a Habitat for Humanity rehab project on the Lower East Side. He was deeply moved by the struggles of the volunteers and the overwhelming needs of the community.

“It was such a terrible problem, I thought we should help,” President Carter says.

The Carters’ involvement in the project was the spark that launched Habitat for Humanity’s New York City affiliate, which absorbed the struggling Lower East Side affiliate. The rehab project on the Lower East Side was the impetus for the transformation of a neighborhood that even the most hardened New Yorkers avoided because it was rife with drugs and crime. “I didn’t think I’d [do such a project] a second year,” President Carter says.

He also had no idea that the weeklong Habitat blitz build that now bears his name would continue. Today, 17 years later, the Jimmy Carter Work Project is a benchmark event for Habitat.

Read the full article.


New Homeowner Draws Inspiration from Jimmy Carter

The most wonderful stories always seem to come from the homeowners, whose lives are often change dramatically with the construction.

Bheki Nxumalo is a man who has always understood commitment. A high school accounting and business economics teacher, he is responsible for his students. As a husband, he knows his duties as a husband and has been paying for his wife’s college tuition as she studies environmental health.

He’s also a youth leader in church. But in 2001, his responsibilities expanded significantly when his mother passed away and he took on the task of housing and educating his younger brother. Two younger sisters already are married.

Since his brother arrived last year, the three adults have shared one room. It’s difficult, Bheki says, to get ready for the next school day because there is nowhere quiet to prepare his lessons.

Read the full article

‘Virginia, Do You Sew?’
"Take some sheets."

I don’t write a lot of first-person stories, but my editor at Habitat World asked me for one after I covered the Jimmy Carter Work Project in the Philippines.

It was one of several pieces of good advice I received for my first trip overseas. I was headed for Maragondon, Cavite, in the Philippines to cover the 16th annual Jimmy Carter Work Project for Habitat World magazine. While more than 14,000 volunteers would gather from around the world to build 293 houses there, I was a volunteer reporting staff of one.

I dug through the linen closet and pulled out an old set with the trim ripped off. Nothing fancy, but they would do in a pinch if the accommodations weren't quite up to American standards. As it turned out, our hotel was amply equipped, but before the end of the trip, they would turn out to be one of the most important things in my suitcase.

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