Saturday, November 24, 2007

1400 Volunteers, 200 Homes a Week

Sourced from the Mail and Guardian Online. Click on the link for the full article.

Mona Miller's life will change this weekend. For the first time, she will have a real roof, solid walls and glass windows. Lights will come on at the flick of a switch, water will flow from the tap and she will enjoy the dignity of a toilet.

Miller will move into her first proper home thanks to a building blitz by nearly 1 400 Irish volunteers, who completed their mission on Friday to build 200 houses in a week in the depressing and dusty -- and hopelessly misnamed -- Freedom Park slum.

"It's a solid home, not something that people can drive though," says Miller, shuddering at the memory of the drunk driver who rammed into her shack four years ago, injuring her two young children in the sprawling Cape Town suburb.

"I look forward to hearing the rain on the roof because I will no longer have to get up and put buckets underneath the holes. I'm going to close my doors and sleep for a week," she grins, looking proudly at the builders putting finishing touches to her new mustard-coloured house.

In the biggest project yet by foreign volunteers in South Africa, the Irish bricklayers, plasterers, painters and general helpers worked to make a tiny dent in South Africa's chronic housing crisis.

The initiative, now in its fifth year, was organised by Niall Mellon, a millionaire Irish entrepreneur who bought a holiday home near Cape Town but could not accept the squalor in the townships around the jewel in South Africa's tourist crown.

Since the end of apartheid, the government has built more than 2,4-million homes for needy families. But millions still live in shacks, and protests against bad living conditions and lack of services erupt almost weekly.

"The difference here is that the scale of the problem is such that nobody gets the chance to catch their breath and see what's been achieved," says Mellon.

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