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August 15, 2001, NEW YORK CITY -- Just back from helping Habitat for Humanity build 136 houses in Korea, National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar already has started recruiting volunteers for the next international build, in Durban, South Africa, in June 2002. 

“It’s an experience people will never forget,” said Dr. Edgar, who spent Aug. 5-11 in Asan, South Korea, working alongside Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, South Korea’s President Kim Dae Jung and other volunteers, shingling roofs, putting up walls and siding, laying floors and painting.

The “Jimmy Carter Work Project 2001” in Korea was the lead event in this summer’s first Habitat for Humanity World Leaders Build, in which 28 heads of state from 26 nations were to join builds and support construction of 1,175 houses for people in need of shelter in 43 countries.   The effort sought to draw attention to the worldwide problems of poverty housing.

Some 9,000 volunteers from around the world helped 136 Korean families build simple, decent houses, 72 of them in Asan. View walking toward Habitat houses in Asan, Korea

“The new homeowners worked with us,” Dr. Edgar said.   “One of them got so excited that by Wednesday, he was asking us to take our shoes off inside even though we hadn’t put the floors down yet!  When on Friday we handed over the keys to the finished homes, there were many tears of joy.”

Dr. Edgar commented that his participation in the Korea build helped cement the new relationship between the National Council of Churches and Habitat for Humanity.  The two organizations in March signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” that lays the groundwork for a growing list of joint endeavors aimed at eliminating poverty housing.”View of Habitat house in Korea

Toward Habitat for Humanity’s goal of building 100,000 homes in the next five years, members of the NCC’s General Assembly will help build homes in Oakland, Calif., in November.  The NCC’s Justice for Women Working Group and Church World Service are exploring other collaborations.

Dr. Edgar will participate in Habitat for Humanity’s 25th anniversary celebrations in September in Indianapolis, and is considering taking the NCC Executive Board’s spring 2002 meeting to Americus, Ga., where Habitat for Humanity has its headquarters.

Dr. Edgar and the NCC’s President for 2000-2001, Ambassador Andrew Young, are scheduled to join Habitat for Humanity’s summer 2002 “Build” in South Africa. Dr. Edgar said, “I want to take 50 NCC volunteers – at least one from each of the NCC’s 36 member communions -- with me to Durban and raise $50,000, which will build 10 houses for a multiracial community on land from which poor people were removed during apartheid.”

The partnership is one in an emerging network of collaborative work to end poverty in the United States. Through its Poverty Mobilization, launched in November 2000, the NCC is focused on making a measurable difference against poverty over the coming decade in such areas as housing, child poverty, health care, public education, environment and public policy, including welfare and budget priorities.

While in Korea, Dr. Edgar also met with officials of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and participated, at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, in the “South and North Korea 2001 Common Prayer Sunday Worship for Peaceful Reunification” (Ah-Hyun Methodist Church in Seoul).  An identical service was held simultaneously in North Korea.

“I am looking forward to more meetings in the United States and Canada this fall with officials of the NCCK and of the Korean Christians Federation, from North Korea,” Dr. Edgar said.  “I’ve committed to accompany NCCK officials to the north, and we dreamed of bringing North and South Koreans together sometime in the next two years to build a Habitat for Humanity house straddling North and South Korea.”


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