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03/03/2017

How women are helping build homes for humanity

Women at home in an Indian village

When Homes for Scotland's Nicola Barclay heard about a 'women's build' on behalf of Habitat for Humanity in India, she jumped at the chance to get her hands dirty – and make connections with other women from very different backgrounds.

What do you get when you cross 13 western women, a home building charity, and a remote Indian community? A new house for Leela and her family, that’s what.

My journey to Mumbai started last year when I decided that it was about time Homes for Scotland stepped up to the plate and got serious about its corporate social responsibility. We have a loud and strong voice in Scotland – representing the home building industry on a variety of planning and policy issues – and I decided that we should put it to good use by highlighting the global challenge that is building enough homes. Habitat for Humanity therefore seemed the perfect fit.

Although I’ve worked in the home building industry my entire career, I have never been involved in construction. My previous roles have mainly focused on land acquisitions and securing planning consents. By the time diggers arrived on site, I was already off looking for the next land deal. So, whilst I readily agreed when the good folks at Habitat for Humanity suggested I go on a build, it was with a fair amount of trepidation!

As luck would have it, a Women’s Build was due to take place in Mumbai in January 2017, and there were a few spaces still left. I quickly signed up before I could change my mind and found a willing accomplice in Gill Henry, head of business development at Cruden Homes. Neither of us had done anything like this before, but we were both up for a challenge!

"I don’t think I truly understood the meaning of the word ‘community’ until I experienced it there. Everyone in this small tribal village came out to help build a house for their neighbour"

The idea of a Women’s Build appealed to me as I loved the idea of females coming together to support others in India. As a society, traditional divisions of labour are still very much in place, especially in the remote village we were travelling to. The women spend most of their time cooking, fetching water from the well, washing clothes in the river and rearing to the children so the quality of their domestic environment has a huge impact on their day-to-day life.

I don’t think I truly understood the meaning of the word ‘community’ until I experienced it there. Everyone in this small tribal village came out to help build a house for their neighbour. We worked alongside everyone from old women to young kids and the local stone masons helped us to create a home made of handmade bricks and mortar. They all pulled together and we rolled up our sleeves, applied the factor 50 and grafted hard alongside them. In the space of five days we constructed a home that will survive the monsoon season – the roof won’t leak and the floor won’t turn to mud - and it will provide separate living and sleeping quarters. Most importantly, Leela’s two young boys Rohit and Rutik will have somewhere to study.

"In the space of five days we constructed a home that will survive the monsoon season – the roof won’t leak and the floor won’t turn to mud - and it will provide separate living and sleeping quarters"

But the 13 women who came together that week also created a community – one of solidarity for our fellow women around the world, and one of support for each other. There were highs and lows throughout our time together – jokes and laughter; ill health and bereavement; and we are still supporting each other now, as we try to adjust back into our ‘normal’ lives – knowing that we have all changed, while the world around us hasn’t.

So we carry on, but with the benefit of a recalibration of our values:  family, friends and community are fundamental to our happiness, but the value of a home is immeasurable.

Nicola Barclay is chief executive of Homes for Scotland

Habitat for Humanity is a global charity that builds safe and decent homes for people in vulnerable communities.

Images supplied by Nicola Barclay.

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