Habitat for Humanity continues to expand worldwide - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Habitat for Humanity continues to expand worldwide

Simona Paiva Simona Paiva
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July 30, 2003

Buenos Aires, Argentina-  Buenos Aires is a sprawling metropolis of 14-million people. As in any large city, there is much wealth here. There is also great need. The city is dotted with shanty towns filled with out of work Argentines.  Simona Paiva is one of millions of people who live in poor neighborhoods.

For 24-years, she ran a neighborhood grocery in a now empty room adjacent to her home. "Simona's was the first in the neighborhood," Paiva said through a translator. A year and a half ago, after Argentina's economy collapsed, Simona lost nearly everything And her neighborhood got more dangerous. "There's a lot more crime than their used to be."

She's struggling to hold onto to her modest home, four tiny rooms. But thanks to a loan from a now defunct charity and a friend in the construction business, it's a nice home, a home she's proud of, a home where she raised nine children.

Simona remains loyal to the people who were her loyal customers. "Whenever beggars on the streets ask for something, I always give them something whenever I can," she said.

Even though Simona had to shut down her business, she does still have a decent roof over her head which means she's in better shape than many people in Argentina. In the last couple of years, the poverty rate here has skyrocketed.

Ana Cutts is Argentina's Habitat for Humanity Director.  She said, "more than 50 percent of the population are living below the poverty line with no income other than a very, very low subsidy that the government gives."

That's why volunteers and staffers are working so hard to build a strong foundation for Habitat for Humanity here. "We believe very much that it's what Argentina needs, not just in terms of housing, but in terms of a credible organization," Cutts said.

They haven't started building homes yet. Word is spreading and many people here are getting excited. "What I think is miraculous about Habitat is that people become, after they are helped, they become people that helps," said Constanza Ledesma, Habitat's chief fundraiser in Argentina.

At the International Headquarters in south Georgia, even the founder is surprised by Habitat's worldwide growth. "From the very beginning we expected Habitat for Humanity to grow, but we thought it would be primarily in the rural south," Millard Fuller said. And he loves to hear stories of hardworking Habitat volunteers from around the world. "It's a humbling thing to meet people who are so dedicated."

Simona had never heard of Habitat. Now, she hopes some of her relatives will get Habitat homes. "She's asking how the program works because she has a daughter in law who needs housing," Simona's translator told us.

Simona is certain people in her struggling neighborhood will buy into the Habitat philosophy and work hard to help themselves and others. "There are a lot of people in need, but also a lot of people who are willing to work and who are hardworking people."

That kind of dedication may be the first brick in building Habitat for Humanity in Argentina, to bring hope to the hopeless, homes to the homeless, to build a better world one house, one life at a time.

The Habitat affiliate in Buenos Aires faces many financial and bureaucratic challenges, but they hope to begin building their first house by the end of the year. Just last month in Romania, Habitat dedicated its 150,000th home. By 2005, the ministry will have helped one million people worldwide earn new homes.

posted at 3:40 p.m. by ben.roberts@walb.com