Habitat for Humanity Philippines (HFHP) managing director and CEO Charlie Ayco insists it is wrong to look at a house as a barometer of a successful life—that people with expensive, expansive shelter are hardworking, and those without are indolent.
Instead, we need to consider housing alongside food and clothing. “If you look at housing as a basic human right, then to deprive a person of decent housing becomes a question of justice,” he says at the presser to announce the slew of forthcoming HFHP activities to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the country on May 23 next year.
HFHP certainly walks its talk, and figures bear this out: over 42,000 houses built in over 180 communities around the country. From being just a “small country affiliate” at its outset, HFHP has turned into the poster boy for addressing the dire housing backlog in the Philippines. It’s also a favorite partner and channel for corporate social responsibility, and legions of individual volunteers.
That certainly wasn’t the case in 1988, maintains Ayco. “When Habitat started in the Philippines, housing was a cause advanced by only a few people. It wasn’t common to see people in mainstream or business to talk about housing. This was a cause of the urban poor.”
Now, big business, private and public citizens have taken the cudgels to wage war on homelessness, the issue is being tackled in both boardrooms and streets. But even if Habitat has successfully conscripted the moral majority into the suddenly sexy cause, Ayco insists there remains much work to be done to make a decisive dent on the housing backlog that is nearing a massive four million.
Habitat for Humanity International is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that is headquartered in Americus, Georgia, and does not hide its religious character. “We have a certain way of looking at the issue because we’re a Christian organization,” explains Ayco.
“Why are we doing what we are doing? The main motivation of Habitat is because it is a Christian organization. We’re motivated to demonstrate God’s love… A human being needs to live in a decent house – consistent with his dignity as a person… Our Christian faith does not only mean that we talk about faith and sing about love – it’s something to be acted out.”
The lack of decent housing is “morally, socially, and politically unacceptable,” and is a crucial touch point for a meaningful life—something that fosters self-trust and confidence in people. “It’s a big change for people to have a permanent address,” continues Ayco. “If they mention (they live in) a slum area, companies would be hesitant to hire them.”
HFHP wants to increase its forward momentum and meaningfully mark its 25th year with its “Ayos Bahay, Ayos Buhay, Ayos Bayan” (loosely translated as “good house, good life, good country”) program. Operationalizing this vision are three “signature” events: Ayos Bahay Challege (or ABC), Ronda Probinsiya Fiesta Build, Youth Builds: I Build My Philippines, and Building on Faith: A Day of Prayer.
ABC entails the distribution of so-called home improvement kits and shelter repair kits to some 25,000 families as pre- and post-disaster solutions. “It’s really challenging… We are supposedly known as the disaster capital of the world,” volunteers program champion Dabs Liban. He appeals to generous hearts to pitch in for the kits, which cost about P12,000 each. In the kit are lumber, roofing, wall solutions, tools, and nails to help victims of flooding and typhoons repair their homes and prevent destruction to those in vulnerable areas.
The Ronda Probinsiya Fiesta Build takes the good work on the road, taking what Liban describes as a “celebratory approach” on the ubiquitous Pinoy fiesta. Builds will immediately precede fiesta observances in Saranggani, Mindoro, and Maguindanao.
Meanwhile, Youth Builds: I Build My Philippines seeks to enlist 10,000 young volunteers across the country for a big youth build in March. Alex Eduque, chairperson and founder of the Habitat Youth Council, reports that in May, more than 5,000 offered their time and effort for the gruntwork needed for builds in Navotas and Cagayan de Oro. “This year, we decided to make the youth program sustainable—not just a one-day event,” she says.
Finally, David Bonifacio, member of HFHP’s board of trustees, calls for volunteers in communities and faith groups to help realize the goal of 800,000 houses – representing a 20-percent slash on the aforementioned shortage. “Extreme greed got us to this position, and extreme generosity will get us out,” he observes, and calls for participants in a day of prayer on October 25. “Extreme division got us to this position. Extreme will get us out of it. Habitat is a catalyst for that extreme generosity and unity. It’s a platform for people to come together and start building communities.”
Rick Hathaway, VP for Asia Pacific Habitat for Humanity International lauds the “truly inspiring” growth of the organization’s Philippine operations. “The program in the Philippines has become a global leader in the Habitat network in disaster response, community development, volunteerism, youth engagement, and especially mobilizing government and corporate community to work together,” he says. “The problems of shelter are so big that it needs everybody to work together without an agenda that is not supportive of the poor.”
Charlie Ayco lays down the bottom line: “It’s not only a matter of building houses. It includes advocacy, new policies in government, and public-private partnerships… It’s making sure that the rules of the game—that is, the policy environment—is conducive to make it more affordable for more people to own a house and prepare the communities to come up with a solution.”
Indeed, one can continue to hope that one blessed day, each Filipino will be able to say with all confidence and pride that there’s no place like home.