Friday, December 25, 2015

It's Christmas time again

This is an excerpt from the latest issue of INTERSECTION, which I edit with Si Yong and Pik Shia. It refers to the Borneo Blitz Build by the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, which we featured last year and which we helped to build as volunteers. The article is also a reaction to some people in the local community whom I felt have not practiced what they appear to be constantly preaching.

Excerpt from last year's issue - note the news headline proclaiming the 14 houses 'meant' to be built in 6 days.

This is the article - IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME AGAIN.

This is Terry.

Full name Terry Henry Asun, his brother is Rio Ferdinand Radin. I met Terry and his family more than a year ago during the Habitat for Humanity Borneo Blitz Build (BBB) in September 2014. We were part of a team of volunteers from PAMSC to start and complete House 11 (Terry’s house). Over the weeks before and during the build, we became friends and my wife, Sam promised him English tuition when he moves into his new home – just in time for his UPSR this year.

 That promise was not kept.

Terry’s family and 13 of their neighbours in this Habitat for Humanity (HfH) Global Village have not moved into their homes. Shortly after the fanfare of press coverage, and after the foreign volunteers* have gone back, construction slowed to a halt. I understand that the original plan was for the home owners to move in by Christmas 2014. To-date, most of the houses are near completion but the roads and drains are incomplete and as a result, water and power supply cannot be connected. When I wrote to HfH Kuching, they informed us that the engineering plans have not been approved. And that they expect the houses to be completed by June 2016. The remaining works, including some touching up works for the houses will be completed by contractors. 

 This is an extra 18 month wait. 
When I met with Hfh, they explained the events that caused the delay – a recalcitrant engineer appeared to be their biggest problem. It is curious that a committee of architects, engineers and lawyers were not able (or willing) to deal with the engineer more decisively. Rather have 14 families live in sub-standard houses for 18-months longer than change the engineer? What was their priority here?  As I listened, I heard different priorities – worries about backlash from the sponsors of the BBB, the land donor wanting to know if his land will be put to good use. Only later in the conversation did the current situation of the home owners arise. The same 14 families will eventually occupy the houses and some of them have started paying already although they have not been told when they can occupy their homes. 

I would have thought that your clients should be the first to be informed about the status of the project. That’s right –clients. Habitat houses are not free; only the volunteer labour is free. The home-owners pay for their houses like any other house buyer. Some people seemed to have forgotten this little point.

 *A HfH Global Village engages overseas volunteers to help build their houses, who contribute financially to the local affiliate as well.

My wife who was a active volunteer at Habitat Kuching, thinks that this article is a little bit harsh on the HfH committee. I understand her point of view - that perhaps my opinion could have been tempered with a more tact - but I feel that is the problem. When the committee beat around the bush for fear of offending someone's feelings (the engineer's, in this case), instead of giving him a mandate with a dateline.

And as a result, 14 families live in sub standard housing for a further 18 months.

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