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NCC-Habitat for Humanity 2002
"Durban Build Team"
For many church people in the United States, the Republic of South Africa feels a lot closer than it looks on the world map - the result of decades of work with South African church partners, first in the struggle against apartheid and now in building a democratic society free of poverty and inequality.
That may be why the National Council of Churches easily filled all 45 places in its ecumenical, intergenerational delegation to Durban, South Africa, to participate in the June 3-7 culmination of Habitat for Humanitys Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 (JCWP). Together with Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and some 2,000 other volunteers, the NCC contingent will help build 100 houses to shelter South African families who now live in shanties and other substandard housing. The group's itinerary includes visits in the Johannesburg area May 28-31 before going on to Durban June 1.
Day One Reflections from Johannesburg, by Phil LaBelle: "We headed out of town after a tour of downtown Johannesburg. A few miles out, our bus stopped on the side of the road above a shantytown - a hodge-podge collection of one-room homes made by the poorest of the poor. The houses were made of wood, tin, plastic and many other materials. We were entering into Soweto, the large black township in South Africa just outside of Johannesburg. Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They didnt live in this shantytown but in small homes further up in Soweto. Soweto is home to over four million black South Africans. It makes up half of the population of Johannesburg. For comparison, that is four times bigger than Detroit ... "
Day Two Reflections from Johannesburg by Phil LaBelle: "The Reverend Simanga Khumalo stood in front of us on the steps to a pre-school and told us about the mission of the churches he has planted in the Ivory Park township. The churches-six in all-all try to reach out to the communities of which they are a part, and this school provides an education that many children might never receive. Some of the children greeted us with hellos, while some stood by too shy to speak, and one young boy hid behind the door and began crying. The school was one large room, and the children who attended also received a meal during the day ... "
Day Two Report from Johannesburg by Phyllis Belk: Forty-four volunteers from the U.S.A traveling in South Africa with Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, are getting an inside look at how many black residents of Johannesburg and surrounding townships are living in this post-Apartheid era. In fact, they have been told several times by knowledgeable authorities that most white South Africans have not been inside the black townships, into homes, churches and community centers visited by the Americans. The U.S. group includes people from all parts of America, ranging in age from 18 to 82. About a fifth of the group are theological students from a variety of seminaries. Next week the group will join hundreds of other volunteers in Durban for the Jimmy Carter Work Project2002/Habitat, to build 100 houses.
Day Three Report from Johannesburg by Phyllis Belk: A group of 45 American volunteers traveling in South Africa under the auspices of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. were hosted at a banquet tonight (May 31) by the South African Council of Churches in partnership with the Umsobomvu Youth Fund. The Americans were warmly welcomed by the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Dr. Molefe Tsele, who told them how much he admired the work they would be doing at the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 for Habitat for Humanity during the week of June 2 in Durban.
June 4 Reflections from Durban by Phil LaBelle: On Sunday, many of us walked along the beachfront near our hotel to shop in the markets on the boardwalk. Many women sat there selling their goods-carved elephants, bead work, material and many other things. We looked and bought gifts for friends from the women and took pictures of their children....Early on Monday morning we got up early to take the buses to the work site. Even though it was 5:30, some of those women were still there in their market stalls, sleeping. Those market stalls along the beach were their homes. I heard a baby crying as I boarded the bus. It is with people like that here in South Africa that we are building houses. Those who don't have adequate housing or have none at all. Those who sleep with their children in the cool nights of winter in a market stall to make a living....
Build's-End Reflections from Durban by Phil LaBelle: The house we had worked on for the last five days was complete. It was dedicated as we stood gathered near the front door. Nana (pictured, right), our homeowner who had worked closely with us, shed tears as the reality of the situation came to her. This building was now her home. A place to share meals with friends, and to raise her child, and to live in for many years to come. We shared our thoughts and desires for Nana. Tears flowed freely, and our throats caught. The pain I felt from the weeks work didnt really seem to matter anymore. I looked at how happy Nana was, and at the people there by her side sharing that experience with her. I looked around at the other houses nearby. They too were having dedications. And so were the others at all of the houses we built that week. One hundred new houses. One hundred gatherings happening at that moment asking God to bless the homes and those living in them....
Left: Bob Edgar (center) with the Carters. Below: New houses take shape.
All photos by Whitney Dempsey
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