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Feature - A place to call home

In southern India, a former Whistler resident joins a group of international students in helping a family build a place where they can dwell in dignity and safety


Before he dies, every man should build a home. The process, like writing a good autobiography, organizes personal history, clarifies dreams, confirms uniqueness, satisfies the soul.

— Plato

"You and the World" is the Grade 11 and 12 theme for Kodaikanal International School’s Social Experience program. Students at the high school in southern India are required to participate in 15 hours of interactive community service each semester, or they won’t graduate.

The Social Experience department aims to develop student responsibility for constructive, respectable behaviour towards themselves, their family, and communities.

Every Saturday morning, from 9 a.m. to noon, students chose to take part in one of the following local social service programs: English for Tamil students, garbage management, kitchen gardens, Mercy Home for the Elderly, Pre-Natal Clinic, recycling, Shenbaganur Orphanage, or the Under-Fives Clinic.

In conjunction, during the first week of October, the entire high school student body is involved in Field Trip week. This is an opportunity for the school to reach out and participate in long-term community projects.

As a teacher at Kodaikanal, I was one of three chaperones to 14 Grade 11 students who completed their Social Experience requirements by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in the neighbouring state of Kerala. Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit organization founded in 1976. Since then Habitat for Humanity has built more than 100,000 homes for poor families around the world. The Vancouver chapter of Habitat for Humanity is currently building homes in Burnaby.

The organization’s mandate is to help those in need who are willing to help themselves. Although HFH is a Christian organization they accept all faiths, ages, races, walks of life and cultures. I found that part of their mandate appealing, and as a group of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists we fit right in.

HFH firmly believes that "every man, woman and child should have a simple, decent, affordable place to live where they can dwell in dignity and safety." An estimated 25 per cent of the world’s population have no home at all. Most of the Indian population of one billion-plus – 15.6 per cent of the world’s population – lives in housing that is sub-standard for human living. Houses are generally made of grass, leaves, reeds, bamboo, mud, bricks or stone. Recognizing the dire need for housing in India HFH first came to this country in 1984. Kodaikanal International School has been in partnership with HFH since 1998.

Nineteen-eighty-four was also the year former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn took their first Habitat work trip to New York City. When I was still living in Whistler I remember reading in the newspaper about Carter working for Habitat in Manitoba.