Building In South Aftrica With Habitat For Humanity 2002 Jimmy Carter Work Project

Being involved in the construction industry, we make our living furnishing others in need of shelter and comfort. Even those of us involved in commercial or industrial construction perform most of our work in support of activities that all boil down to the fulfillment of one of several basic human needs: food, water, clothing and shelter.

With our resources and talents, we have the opportunity to share some of our abundance with those who might otherwise not have the opportunity of obtaining decent shelter on their own. For more than 25 years, the partnership between the construction industry, churches, community groups, corporations, individuals, aspiring homeowners and Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) has done a remarkable job of helping many to achieve this goal.

One of the highlights of the quarter-century history of HFHI has been the Jimmy Carter Work Projects (JCWP), held annually since 1984. JCWP began in 1984, when former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, traveled to New York City to participate in reconstructing apartments with homeowners and other HFHI volunteers. A resounding success, JCWP became an annual event with building sites all over the United States and numerous other countries across the globe.

JCWP 2002 built 1,000 homes in 18 countries on the continent of Africa, with the main build site in Durban, South Africa. There, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were joined by HFHI founders Millard and Linda Fuller, numerous dignitaries from Africa (including at least one queen and several former heads-of-state), thousands of local volunteers, and more than a thousand volunteers from the United States and other countries around the world. These forces combined with a very well organized local HFHI affiliate in South Africa to complete construction of 100 single-family dwellings in one week.

Building 'Simple, Decent Homes' In Durban

The Durban build site is located on a hilly, wooded area not far from the center of the city. These first 100 homes are part of a master plan that will add an additional 200 homes along with recreational and educational facilities by 2005. The land is located in an area known as Cato Manor.

In the early-1960s, thousands of Indians and black Africans were removed from this area by the government's apartheid authorities. Their houses were torn down and the land was cleared to reinforce racial separatism, and to open the land for white occupation. In all these years, the land has been largely untouched, but is now being pressed into service to help with the enormous housing problem that exists all over Africa.

Let The Building Begin

Volunteers assembled on the construction site on a Monday morning in early June, the middle of South Africa's winter. The winters are temperate in this coastal city and the days are short, so work began each day at the first light and went until dark.

On Day One, there were 100 slabs with masonry corners and scaffolding in place. The goal was to raise all four concrete block walls on that very first day. Key to meeting this goal were the pools of mortar - one per every four units - that were brought in by ready-mix trucks. Each home site had 20-40 (mostly inexperienced) volunteers, one house leader, several crew leaders and one professional mason. By the end of the day nearly all walls were complete with door and window frames set and ready to go.

The homes were all the same size with several configurations. The roughly 600-square-foot dwellings had a living area, two bedrooms, a full bath and a small food preparation room with a sink and small counter top. This type of home is common in many areas of the country, and is prized by those working-class individuals who otherwise live in dense apartments or one of the many shantytowns or shacks that dot the landscape.

The ceilings of the homes were insulated with a couple of inches of blue Dow insulation board. Dow Chemical Co. is a major supporter of HFHI, and actually sponsored the construction of 10 homes in Durban.

During the week, Kathleen M. Bader, Business Group President for Dow, Dow Europe, GmbH, announced that Dow had contributed funds for the construction of an additional 10 homes to be built after the JCWP 2002, and an additional contribution to community activities. Not content to simply bring the checkbook, Ms. Bader was also among the many volunteers who came to work on the build all week long.

Homes of this type in South Africa frequently have corrugated metal or cement/asbestos panel roofing without insulation. Yes, they still manufacture asbestos roofing, siding and other construction products in South Africa. With the epidemic of AIDS and exceedingly high unemployment, issues such as asbestos do not have so much impact here. The combination of the concrete tile roofs and insulation will make these homes much more "livable," especially during the heat of the day, or in the rainy season.

The interior walls were constructed of gypsum board over wood framing. The inside of the block walls were not finished with drywall. In South Africa, the interior walls would normally be constructed of concrete block like the exterior walls. South African consumers typically consider drywall "temporary," such as the walls in commercial office buildings. The nature of a one-week build, however, requires building techniques that can keep up with the pace.

The inside walls were finished with a crown mould made of the same 2x2 that was used for the roof framing, and the shoe moulding was a vinyl set in a trowel-grade adhesive. The interior floors sported a natural concrete finish ready for throw rugs or other homeowner-furnished upgrade.

The gable ends of the block homes were finished with an RB&B transite siding board that received a few coats of paint, and the front porch (and roof over the bath and food preparation area on some models) was topped with corrugated transite panels. The installation of the front porch awnings proved challenging on many of the homes, and on Thursday President Carter took note of this.

His house being on or ahead of schedule, President Carter took some of the people from the house he was working on along with the necessary tools, and went around the building site installing the porch awning on over half the homes.

The most challenging event during the week came on Thursday as it appeared that many of the homes were behind schedule finishing the drywall. The house leaders got together and decided to stay late and work house-to-house to get the job done.

By mid-morning Friday the schedule was righted. The painting and finishing proceeded only two hours beyond the original scheduled finish time, and allowed for dedicating the homes complete with trees planted in the yard before dark. At dark the volunteers were treated to a victory celebration with speeches and music and dancing and a genuine South African Braai (barbeque).

On A Personal Note

It was a great honor to work on the JCWP 2002 in Durban tagging along with a band of 18 others from Georgia, Florida, and Washington, D.C. While the work was physically challenging, much was learned about different construction methods, and several different cultures.

It was especially gratifying to work side-by-side with homeowners, Bheki and Nondumiso Nxumalo. Took the entire week to learn how to pronounce their beautiful last name with a "click" where the X is. Zulu is a beautiful language to hear, even without understanding a word of it. Luckily the Nxumalo's English is excellent. They, like all the other South Africans are warm and welcoming people.

South Africa still faces a myriad of political and social challenges. JCWP 2002 did much to show what people can do when they work together. The government in Durban led by Mayor Obed Mlaba - like Habitat for Humanity International - is committed to ending poverty housing. Mayor Mlaba has committed himself and his administration to take this culture of volunteerism and cooperation and within 10 to 15 years, the tremendous lack of affordable housing will be "... a thing of the past."

To that end, this hillside in Cato Manor where greed and hatred came to destroy hope 40 years ago has now been renamed, "Ethembeni" - "Place of Hope." For 100 South African families, JCWP 2002 represents a significant dream fulfilled. For people across the continent of Africa, this event will mark a renewal of faith in their fellow man, and each other.

Habitat for Humanity International
Fast Facts

  • HFHI has built more than 100,000 houses around the world in its first 25 years, providing more than a half a million people with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

  • Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit, financed with affordable, no-interest loans.

  • HFHI's work is accomplished at the community level by affiliates, which are independent, locally run, nonprofit organizations.

  • There are more than 1,900 active affiliates in over 80 countries; 1,600 are in the United States.

  • Neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing partner families.

  • Habitat is not a governmental agency and does not accept government funds for construction of houses, but does work with government agencies toward fulfilling its mission of eliminating poverty housing.

  • HFHI is managed by an ecumenical, international board of directors.

  • To learn more about Habitat for Humanity, contact them at 121 Habitat St. Americus, GA 31709 229/924-6935, or on the Web at