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We traveled to Habitat for Humanity National Headquarters in Americus, Georgia, where poverty, and hope, come alive.


Walking into the headquarters office, you are greeted with an extremely large picture. It doesnt say where the picture was taken. It could have been taken in practically any Third World country.


It is a panoramic of a slum.


Cracker box shacks slapped together with cardboard, rusty tin and rotting wood. Each small room (read: house) pushes up against the next. Garbage is strewn everywhere, with open sewage running through the streets. Kids play in the streets.


Children living in poverty are five times more likely to die by age 5, a sign by the picture reads.


rats, roaches, mosquitoes and spiders come up through the holes in the floor, another sign reads. Our children are constantly ill. They cant eat well, or study well.


Yet another sign, a bigger one above it all, reads: 


More than 1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty.


Thats a lot.


Even one person living in absolute poverty is too much for the Habitat Program. Its goal is to provide adequate housing  for everyone in the world.


So far, Habitat has provided 2 million homes for 10 million people around the globe, site manager Linda Mills told us during a tour of an extensive, mock Third World slum built on the grounds here.


It was an uncharacteristically blustery January day in Georgia. With the wind chill it was maybe 15 degrees. In each of the tiny dwellings, the cold wind whistled through slats in the wood and open windows. (The windows are open because there is no glass).


Probably not unlike the wind that whistles through similar slums in, say, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Ukraine


In one tiny home our children briefly lied down in a small bunk bed, with tree branch legs and small wooden boards. Dirty blankets covered the boards. There were no mattresses.


Ms. Mills said volunteers from all over the country came to Americus to build the mock slum here over a two-year period. Like those in the Third World, they gleaned building material (rusty metal sheets, old wood, old bent nails) from dumps and the side of the road.


And what they have done is striking.


So striking, in fact, a grandmother from a middle class farm family in Kentucky broke down in tears.


My goodness, people have to live like this? Ms. Mills said the woman gasped when she saw it.


Thousands of people have come to Americus to see this display in the past several years. And for many, it has poignantly touched their heartstrings as well.


So much so, Habitat now has a steady stream of volunteers (individuals, church groups, college groups) who go all over the world to help build adequate housing. Ms. Mills said Habitat now sponsors Volunteer Vacation Trips to build homes in 50 different countries.


And some of these homes are on display at the Americus site as well.


As you walk out of the slum area here, you are greeted with a stark contrast, and some hope. More volunteers have built a series of homes that replicate the kind of Habitat homes going up in the Third World.


Homes like a brightly colored, one-story stucco design that regularly go up in Mexico, or a two-story wooden frame design that would be built in Sri Lanka, or a one story brick one (where the volunteers make their own bricks) in Tanzania All the homes are quite modest by American standards, but an absolute dream to many in the Third World.


Whats more, Ms. Mills said many of the homes Habitat builds in the Third World cost  less than $2,000. (And there is a donor program on their website to help subsidize these.)


Ms. Mills ended the tour by telling me she believed the mock slum here, even without the open sewers and sound of crying and dying babies, has, indeed, helped increase empathy for the plight of the poor in other parts of the world. In the near future, she said Habitat is planning to allow people to sleep in the slum here over night to experience some of this poverty even more.


I couldnt help but think for those who cant make it to Americus, any tin lawn shed (with the windows open and no mattresses and dirty blankets) would do. Yet even at that, many of these American lawn sheds would still be tremendously better accommodations than those in the slums of Uganda, Haiti, Guatemala 

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