of C group builds new homes worldwide
> College students traded
mental toil for physical labor during winter and spring breaks,
working for Habitat for Humanity in the United States and Central
spring break, students cooped
up in dorms and classrooms throughout the Chicago winter head
south. While many look forward to simply getting a tan, others
have something more constructive in mind. During nine days in
March, a group of 30 College students rented vans and drove
to Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina to build affordable
homes for needy families.
mix concrete to support beams of a Nicaraguan house.
This is the seventh
year the University's Habitat for Humanity chapter has arranged
for students to help others through Habitat International's
Collegiate Challenge program. This year, the "alternative" spring-break
trips were filled within a week.
Students who signed
up expected to do a range of construction work--from laying
foundations to roofing to putting up drywall--at sites in Albany,
Georgia; Fairfield, Alabama; or Morehead City, North Carolina.
"It's about making a difference that you can tangibly see,"
says volunteer coordinator Cynthia King, a third-year economics
Based in Americus,
Georgia, Habitat was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit, ecumenical
ministry to provide the working poor with decent and affordable
housing. The organization has built some 50,000 houses worldwide,
working with more than 1,200 U.S. affiliates and 200 international
One of 600 campus
chapters nationwide, the U of C group formed in 1989 as a loose
affiliation of students. Now a recognized student organization,
it has a ten-student board and more than 130 participants--a
number it expects to double next year. David Grainger, a campus
minister and the director of the United Protestant Campus Ministry
at the U of C, serves as the group's faculty adviser. "The students
of the Habitat chapter respond to the problem of affordable
housing with efforts to bring some correction to the problem
and to learn more about the systemic reasons for the problem,"
he says. "Their efforts take them into our neighborhoods and
allow them to become better neighbors. They dare to take their
learning to the streets."
In addition to the
spring-break trips, the chapter also organizes Saturday work
projects on the South Side. So far this academic year, more
than 100 members of the University community--mostly undergraduates--have
spent some 600 hours on various improvement efforts, gutting
buildings with crowbars and scraping paint from walls.
does not have a city affiliate serving the South Side, the U
of C chapter has developed its own relationships with community
organizations. The group has been helping the Matthew House
social-service center rehab a building that will provide transitional
housing for 20 homeless men. This past fall, the chapter began
rehabbing the headquarters of the Midwest Workers Association
(MWA), which advocates on behalf of low-income workers. U of
C students have also worked on St. Luke's Place, a residential-service
facility for people with HIV or AIDS, and at projects led by
Woodlawn Development Associates.
for students to see the surrounding neighborhood and try to
become a part of that community even in a small way," says MWA
project leader Nick Robinson, a second-year concentrating in
political science and Law, Letters, & Society.
siding on a home in Mississippi.
The U of C chapter
has also sought to take part in Habitat's global initiatives.
Over this past winter break, it organized its first international
work trip, traveling to Nicaragua. There, 13 College students
and one medical student helped construct ten homes in Diriamba,
a small town southwest of Managua that had been devastated by
Hurricane Mitch in October 1998.
The students worked
through last summer and autumn to raise the $21,000 needed to
pay for the trip, holding a silent auction, soliciting grants,
and contributing $500 from personal resources. After being briefed
in Chicago by a worker for Habitat's Nicaragua chapter, Grainger
and the students headed to Managua. They met with local college
students and attended orientation seminars on the country's
history and on sustainable development at the Augsburg College-affiliated
Center for Global Education.
In Diriamba, they
mixed concrete, transported 120-pound limestone quarry rocks,
wrapped rebar, and smoothed sand floors alongside families whose
homes had been destroyed by the hurricane. Four Spanish-speaking
U of C students served as translators on the ten-day trip. Away
from the construction sites, the students stayed in a local
pension and attended community festivals and picnics. One night
they loaded up their vans with about 30 locals and drove some
20 kilometers to the Pacific coast for a swim and sing-a-long.
"The trip was more
than I hoped it would be," says trip leader and fourth-year
geophysical-sciences concentrator Scott Strawn. "We were greeted
with such a feeling of friendliness, and we had such a great
opportunity to learn firsthand about the history of the country
and what the people have gone through." In the future, King
says, the chapter hopes to host talks by urban-policy experts,
add more local projects, and make the international work trip
an annual event.--C.S.