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February 10, 2010

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Raising the roof for homeless

SHANGHAI'S Habitat for Humanity got started late last year but already has put roofs over needy heads. It's sponsoring a benefit concert for Haiti on March 5. Sam Riley volunteers.

Through a network of volunteers, the Shanghai branch of Habitat for Humanity (HFH) is helping to bring hope into the lives of homeless people in Shanghai and around the world.

Although it got started locally only late last year, the international organization has not only built three homes in Zhejiang Province but also swung into action to help quake-ravaged Haiti. All thanks to its extensive network of volunteers.

Along with local promoters Three Chord Truth, the Shanghai branch will hold a fund-raising concert, "Dance for Haiti," on March 5 at the Zhijiang Dream Factory on Yuyao Road.

The benefit concert will feature six local bands and will highlight the humanitarian response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti on January 12, killing at least 200,000.

Tickets will cost 100 yuan (US$14.65) and all proceeds from ticket sales will go toward the international aid effort.

The lineup includes French and American acoustic gypsy jazz trio Wayne's Basement, Shanghainese psychedelic rock experience Duck Fight Goose, classic rock expat mainstays Studio 188, and pop-rock quartet Monroe Stahr, reggae crossover sensation Lions of Puxi, and Xinjiang fusion rock idol Hassan's trio - Weghur.

"The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the international community's response to this disaster," says co-promoter Nathaniel Mallon. "By bringing together these six talented bands from all different styles and nationalities, we're showcasing the best in local music, keeping positive and hopeful in times of catastrophe, while recognizing the gravity of the situation."

Habitat for Humanity has been operating in Haiti for 26 years and is currently on the ground assisting victims. It is clearing debris from home sites, building transitional housing, and providing Habitat for Humanity Recovery Starter kits of materials and tools so families can repair their damaged homes.

The international NGO is a global specialist in providing housing to victims of disasters. It also aided victims of the earthquake in 2008 in Sichuan Province.

Active in China since 2000, HFH China opened its first branch in Kunming in Yunnan Province and later opened branches in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province. It has major offices in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and in Hong Kong.

It has built more than 800 houses in China, mostly in rural areas. Each costs around US$4,500.

Habitat's general manager in Shanghai, Eric Arndt, says the organization partners with local and international schools and Chinese and multinational companies.

The Shanghai American School has its own HFH Club that raises money and volunteers to help build homes.

Large companies such as agri-business giant Cargill and Coca-Cola use house building projects as part of corporate team building and corporate social responsibility activities.

"The house is the physical foundation on which a happy, healthy life is built," Arndt says. "Without a house you are in bad shape. When you are talking about health, education and livelihood, without a house it is very difficult to get any of these off the ground."

One of the Zhejiang families who received assistance had a child with a disability and the mother had a heart condition, Arndt says.

Their roof had collapsed during a storm. Another recipient was an elderly man who lived alone with just a plastic tarpaulin for cover. HFH built him a house and a small shelter for his animals.

The NGO, in cooperation with local governments, decides who will receive a house and who is in most urgent need of shelter.

In some cases, Habitat uses a micro-finance arrangement whereby the recipient family pays part of the cost and helps build their own home with HFH volunteers in so-called "sweat equity."

Shanghai HFH has a range of volunteering options, ranging from a day's work to up to a week. Volunteers are given a full safety and technical briefing before undertaking work.

Volunteers can dig holes for foundations, backfill the foundations, mix cement, lay bricks, carry bricks materials and perform many other tasks.

"Throughout this process they are working with us to ensure they are working safely," says Arndt.

No construction or trade skills are necessary to volunteer.

The Shanghai branch also operates in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.

Volunteers under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a guardian or parent.

This year's projects include building homes on Chongming Island (County) and refurbishing the living quarters of migrant workers around Shanghai.

Anyone wishing to volunteer or seeking more information can e-mail to or visit

Tickets for the benefit concert are available by calling the Zhijiang Dream Factory at 5213-5086.


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