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Village to offer peek at how the world lives

Habitat for Humanity site builds awareness

SHARE Village to offer peek at how the world lives

AMERICUS, Ga. — The green and brown house on stilts in south Georgia may look like a glorified treehouse, but it's actually the type of home Habitat for Humanity volunteers build for poor families in Papua New Guinea.

"We get deer hunters come by who want one as a deer stand," says Habitat spokeswoman Carla Robinson.

"Part of what we're trying to do is educate people about how others live overseas. We're so blessed as a country that what is a mansion to someone in the developing world is recreation for us."

The New Guinea house is one of 40 that are built or planned at Habitat's 6-acre Global Village & Discovery Center, designed to help the Americus-based group build awareness, encourage volunteers and bring tourists to southwest Georgia.

Construction began last January, and so far hundreds of volunteers from 68 countries have built 15 homes, typical of Habitat homes in places such as Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Tanzania, Haiti and Botswana.

The $5 million village will open in the spring, but construction will continue for two more years.

Visitors will see examples of Third World slums, where millions of poor live without electric lights, toilets or even a roof that doesn't leak. Then they can tour Habitat homes from around the world. The center will also feature an exhibition center with photos and videos.

"It's important for Americans to see how 1.2 billion people live," says Habitat spokeswoman Kimberly Moore. "About one-fourth of the world's population lives in poverty."

Visitors also will be able to make bricks and roofing tiles or they can see how New Guinea residents weave mats for their homes.

They can even make a contribution by buying a $100 brick with their name inscribed on it, or a front yard or even an entire house at Third World prices, usually less than $5,000.

"They're more than welcome to give more than that," says Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat with his wife, Linda, in 1976. "We have had tremendous support for this project."

Fuller says the Global Village funds are separate from the money Habitat uses to finance its poverty housing programs.

With affiliates in more than 3,000 communities in 87 countries, the Christian housing ministry has built more than 125,000 homes around the world.

Habitat's international headquarters, located in the southwest Georgia town of Americus, about 150 miles south of Atlanta, attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year.

Over the years, visitors were most impressed by a small group of houses, displayed inside an old warehouse, depicting the group's international work, Fuller says.

"That was the thing they talked about," Fuller said. "I began to realize we needed something that was bigger. We launched a fund-raising campaign and got commitments for more than $700,000."

Habitat spent about $140,000 clearing land that had been occupied by a dilapidated peanut mill and now is in the process of building the village. The volunteer builders use native materials as much as possible.

"Most people don't get to go to India or to walk through a neighborhood in Kenya or Botswana," Fuller says. "We're giving you an opportunity. These houses are very authentic. We think it's going to be inspirational."

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, whose home is about 20 miles west of Americus, are long-time friends of Fuller and have been the group's most high-profile volunteers.

The tourist train that stops at the Global Village continues west to the Carters' hometown of Plains and then on to Carter's boyhood home in Archery.

Some of the buildings in Plains and the Carter family's Depression-era farm in Archery have been designated a National Historic Site to highlight the life of the peanut farmer who became the nation's 39th president and who won the Nobel Peace prize last year for his global peacemaking efforts.

During a recent preview for Americus residents, volunteers and reporters, Gera Nelson of Brazil was cooking plantains, eaten as a vegetable throughout the tropics, in a brick stove inside a tin-roof African house made from concrete blocks.

"Anywhere in Africa, if a person can get a tin roof, that makes them happy," says Nelson, who has worked on some of Habitat's international projects.

Patrick Nwokedi of Nigeria showed visitors a Ghanian home. It, too, was made from concrete blocks, but its white paint and light blue trim gave it a more cheerful look than some of the unpainted dwellings.

Nwokedi said Habitat homes change people's lives in Africa.

"It makes them happy they have their heads under a roof," he said. "They are able to live happily and send their children to school. There are a lot of people who are poor and don't have their own houses."

Speaking at the groundbreaking for the Global Village earlier in 2002, Carter said, "Rosalynn and I have had an opportunity to see what Habitat is doing around the world. We have been to Nicaragua, where we have made roof tiles. We have worked in the Philippines, Mexico and South Korea.

"The Global Village & Discovery Center will give a better sense of what Habitat is doing, not only at home, but around the world."

For information

Information: Habitat's tourist phone number is 229-924-6935, ext. 2153.

On the Net: www.habitat.org