Habitat for Humanity creates slum village in an unconventional mix of tourism and activism

Saturday, June 7th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AMERICUS, Ga. (AP) -- Habitat for Humanity has built a Third World slum in its own back yard as a sort of theme park of poverty that it hopes will motivate visitors to contribute to efforts to build affordable housing around the world.

Thirteen homes, representing housing from Haiti to South Africa to India, were completed in time for Saturday's dedication of the Global Village and Discovery Center by former President Carter, a longtime Habitat for Humanity volunteer.

The unconventional mix of tourism and activism includes slum houses hardly large enough to accommodate a bed and a few sticks of makeshift furniture, with leaky roofs, earthen floors and unscreened windows.

"If we can get people to thinking of the needs of people who live in poverty housing, then we are accomplishing part of our goals, which is to raise awareness," said Habitat spokeswoman Barbara Webber.

Millard Fuller, who with his wife, Linda, founded the Christian ministry that works to build low-cost housing around the world, said he decided to create the village outside the organization's headquarters after noticing that visitors were most impressed by a small group of houses highlighting Habitat's work in impoverished communities.

Upon entering the Global Village, visitors walk along a narrow, winding alleyway lined with shacks made from tin, tarpaper and cast-off lumber.

"In South Africa, people hang up a string and light bulb to give hope that someday they may have electricity," said Linda Mills, the village's tour coordinator. "Sometimes, they have a TV and VCR jury-rigged to a car battery. The whole community gathers around and watches."

Standing tall in the midst of the squalor is the community outhouse, too narrow to accommodate many Americans but a perfect size for an undernourished child in Guatemala or India.

After experiencing the hardships and misery of the slums, visitors emerge in decent housing that can be built for $2,900 to $4,300 in places like Botswana, India, Haiti and South Africa.

Mills said the village shows how little it takes to change lives.

"This can bring us down to earth about what we have, compared to the rest of the world," she said.

One middle-aged visitor was so moved during a recent preview tour that he pledged to build a Habitat house every year for the rest of his life, Webber said.

Habitat hosts about 10,000 visitors a year at its headquarters and expects the village to attract thousands more, especially because it is a stop for a tourist train running to President Carter's boyhood home in Archery. The group hopes to build 22 more homes for the slum village at the headquarters in Americus, 150 miles south of Atlanta.

Launched by the Fullers in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has affiliates in 87 countries and its volunteers have built nearly 150,000 homes.

About 1.2 billion people live in poverty around the world, Webber said.