SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “hand-up”

SERIES: The terms that define our mission — “hand-up”

(Photo: Ana Tarazona Ramos of La Florida, Peru, partnered with us to build a new home and even came to America in 2011 to help build homes at the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, Louisiana. She since has become mayor of her community.)

This is the second in a series of blog posts about terms that define how The Fuller Center for Housing works to help families have simple, decent places to live. On Friday, we’ll take a look at the meaning of “ecumenical.”


 

If I had a nickel for every charity or nonprofit that claims to give “a hand-up instead of a handout,” I’d be a wealthy man — and I’d donate a lot of those nickels to a nonprofit that actually does provide a hand-up instead of a handout.

The phrase “hand-up instead of a handout” too often has meant nothing and has become rather cliché — and that’s a shame because it’s at the very heart of what we do at The Fuller Center for Housing.

Many people mistakenly believe Fuller Center homeowners are given houses or given repairs for free. They’ll leave comments on our social media pages such as, “I wish somebody would give me a house!”

That’s not how it works. For new houses, homeowner partners must be working hard to provide for themselves even if they fall just short of what they need to qualify for traditional lending from banks. They must perform hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in the building of their homes and then repay the costs of materials, over time, with zero interest charged on mortgage terms they can afford. This allows them to pay it forward as the money goes into a Fund for Humanity to help others in their local community get the same hand-up.

For smaller repair projects, there is the Greater Blessing program. There is no mortgage involved in repaying the costs of repairs, but homeowners are asked to contribute “sweat equity” alongside our volunteers and are asked to repay the costs as they are able. For many of the seniors and disabled with whom we work, this may mean just a few dollars at a time. We find that even though they aren’t legally required to repay the costs, they want to. Perhaps that’s out of pure gratitude, a sense of pride, or a combination of the two.

When you truly extend a hand-up instead of a handout, the recipient of the help is able to retain their pride and their dignity. They appreciate the opportunity they have been extended because they have to work for it and repay it. Because their repayments help others, they become givers themselves instead of charity cases. It’s what we call “enlightened charity.”

That hand-up can even lift the recipient far beyond the home itself. One of the best examples of this is Ana Tarazona Ramos in Peru. She struggled daily to get by on the streets of Lima, moving from rented room to rented room with her three young children at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. She often wondered where their next meal would come from as selling school supplies on the streets did not provide an adequate living.

Then she heard about The Fuller Center’s growing community in La Florida. She hopped a bus in desperation and wound up partnering with us to build a home for her family. She was so grateful for the hand-up that she even came to America in 2011 to help others build homes at the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Minden, Louisiana. With her children having a stable life and excelling in school, she felt empowered and rediscovered herself. She would go on to be elected mayor of La Florida.

I heard her tell her story directly to our Board of Directors during that Legacy Build. She fought through tears of joy and gratitude to explain how the hand-up changed her life and why she came to the U.S. to pay it forward. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

My friend Thad Harris, meanwhile, epitomizes what a hand-up can do perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met. Years after being paralyzed in a traffic accident that cost him his livelihood as a construction worker and sent him spiraling into a depression, he partnered with The Fuller Center to build a new home in Americus, Georgia, a few miles from our headquarters.

Thad Harris

Not only did Thad perform hundreds of hours more than his required sweat equity from his wheelchair, but he has since become one of our most prolific volunteers with the local covenant partner, of which he also is a board member. On top of his usual volunteering, he spends weeks each year leading U.S. Builders teams who come to work in Americus. Thad’s smiling face is the main thing they remember about their trips here.

Also, Thad comes by our headquarters office at least once a week to see how things are going, ask if there is anything he can do and to say, “Thank you for what you’re doing.”

“Thad,” I told him last week, “you don’t have to keep thanking us. We appreciate it, but you’ve paid it forward many, many times over.”

“I’m just so thankful,” he said. “I just want you to know you’re appreciated.”

There is a time and a place for handouts, such as in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. But, too often, handouts are diminishing and counter-productive. When we first began working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, we found a culture of dependency that had been created and exacerbated by decades of well-meaning handouts from the United States. We can’t change the entire culture of dependency, but in the areas where we’ve built more than 200 permanent homes, our homeowner partners have been our co-workers instead of charity cases. They are proud of their accomplishments. And they set an example for the Haitian people around them that shows how empowering a hand-up can be.

Everywhere we work, there is a sense of accomplishment at the end of a project — and it is one shared by everyone who contributes, including the homeowners. Instead of someone saying, “Look what we did for you,” we are saying, “Look what we have done together.”

When you support The Fuller Center for Housing, you are truly extending an empowering hand-up instead of a diminishing handout. For that, to echo Thad’s sentiments to us, we are so thankful and want you to know you are appreciated.

President David Snell explains why we don’t do handouts in this short video:

Methodist church from West Lawn, Pennsylvania, renews spiritual energy working in Haiti

Methodist church from West Lawn, Pennsylvania, renews spiritual energy working in Haiti

The Rev. Jeff Raffauf has had many international experiences with members of his congregation on mission trips to several different countries, but building Fuller Center homes in Pigñon, Haiti, has taken these spiritual journeys to an even higher level. Five teams from the church have worked with The Fuller Center for Housing in Haiti over the past two years, and each team comes back invigorated — as so often happens with church groups who take Global Builders and U.S. Builders trips through The Fuller Center. In a new article from the Reading Eagle, Raffauf and others talk about how these trips impact Haitians, why they support the work and how their faith grows through the work.

Complete Reading Eagle article

Fuller Center Global Builders

200th Fuller Center home in Haiti home exemplifies what makes this ministry work

200th Fuller Center home in Haiti home exemplifies what makes this ministry work

(Photo: A local laborer puts the finished touches on the 38th Fuller Center home in Pigñon, Haiti — the first paid for entirely with repayments by previous partner families in the community.)

If I had a nickel for every time I saw a comment like “I wish The Fuller Center would give me a house,” well, I’d have at least $1.85. Of course, I’ve only worked in this ministry for six years. Those who’ve been here longer likely would boast a lot more in their piggy banks.

My first reaction when I see a comment like that on a social media post about the dedication or completion of another Fuller Center for Housing home — here in the United States or abroad — is frustration. However, I have to remind myself that it’s a great opportunity to educate someone who is obviously unfamiliar with the grass-roots principles behind this ministry.

Of course, The Fuller Center does not give away houses. Families build in partnership with us. They commit sweat equity in the building of their homes (often alongside volunteers but also with local laborers) and pay back the building costs on terms they can afford, over time, with no interest charged and no profit made.

Here is the simple concept that truly makes this ministry succeed and grow in each location: Families truly pay it forward as their repayments go into a Fund for Humanity that stay in the community and help their neighbors in need get the very same kind of hand-up into better living conditions. The families, therefore, are not charity cases but are transformed into givers themselves. This empowers families in ways that handouts cannot.

Those who’ve been involved with this ministry are familiar with such pay-it-forward concepts our founder Millard Fuller developed based on partnership principles he learned from theologian Clarence Jordan at historic Koinonia Farm in the 1960s. To newcomers, however — such as those who stumble across a story about The Fuller Center and jump to the conclusion that we give away houses — this is new information.

“One of the blessings that the Fuller Center model offers the poor is the opportunity it gives for them to be more than just recipients of goodwill but donors, as well.” — Fuller Center President David Snell

And it’s a concept they like and embrace. For those who hate handouts, they like that this is a hand-up instead. For those who are unconditionally dedicated to helping the poor, they like that families are empowered to help themselves and break the generational cycle of poverty.

There’s a reason why The Fuller Center is supported by those on the far right, the extreme left and all points in between: Because no one is against helping people help themselves!

The Fund for Humanity concept means that the more Fuller Center homes a community builds, the more it can build. This means that our supporters’ contributions don’t go toward just one house but many. Gifts are recycled, and home-building becomes a rolling snowball, growing along the way.

“One of the blessings that the Fuller Center model offers the poor is the opportunity it gives for them to be more than just recipients of goodwill but donors, as well,” Fuller Center President David Snell says. “And one of the blessings our model gives the rich is that the money they give is multiplied so that they’re not just giving for a single house to be built but for many. This all happens through the Fund for Humanity.  Both the donor dollars and the homeowners mortgage payments go into this fund which is used to build more and more houses.”

More to this milestone in Haiti

The 200th Fuller Center home in Haiti — made possible by volunteers, local workers and supporters like you — is a milestone for that number alone. But there’s more to it. Our 200th Fuller Center home in the country is the 38th in the community of Pigñon, far away from the earthquake-damaged zone where we first began working in 2010.

This 38th home is entirely funded by repayments made by the partner families of the previous 37 homes in Pigñon. These repayments will fund more homes, and when these repayments are coupled with donations by people like you the success multiplies exponentially.

A few of the houses built in Pigñon this year.

As our Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola noted, there’s always more to every milestone number.

“With the large family sizes in Haiti, that’s over a thousand people spending every night in a dry, safe and permanent Fuller Center home,” he said. “After the earthquake struck, it was such a struggle even to build the first one. Now at 200, they seem to roll one after another, using volunteers and employing local Haitians.”

“But the best part, the very best part, is that we now have a program that others said couldn’t be done — where Haitians fund the homes of other Haitians,” he added of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, where decades of well-meaning handouts have exacerbated the country’s problems and helped foster a culture of dependency. “The Biblical model of a no-profit, no-interest loan is incredibly powerful and empowering, and we’re thrilled that Pigñon has embraced it. But this is no time to stop or slow down. Haiti badly needs homes and partners.”

There indeed is more work to be done in Haiti. And Nicaragua. And Nepal. And Lanett, Alabama. And Louisville, Kentucky. But in these places and dozens more across the United States and around the world, the grass-roots principles of partnership housing have taken root and allowing the pay-it-forward model to flourish.

We will never stray from those simple principles with which Millard was so inspired more than four decades ago. And we will stay true to those principles for the simplest reason:

Because they work!

 


 

Fuller Center President David Snell explains why The Fuller Center for Housing does not give houses away:

 

 

Bike Adventure leader: Global Builders trip to Haiti further enhances perspective

Bike Adventure leader: Global Builders trip to Haiti further enhances perspective

Connor Ciment, Fuller Center Bike Adventure trip leader, has had a roller-coaster of a last two years. In fact, little in his life has remained the same, other than a love for his bicycle.

After graduating college in May of 2015, Ciment joined the Fuller Center Bike Adventure. “I loved riding my bike, and I was looking for a way to do it across the country,” he said. “I took a leap of faith, and jumped on the ride right out of college.”

Once on the ride, Ciment learned the trip leader position would be open. Already having fallen in love with the mission, Ciment “got really attached to what The Fuller Center does, especially how it does it.” Shortly thereafter, he committed to a year of service with the Fuller Center.

As a graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in mechanical engineering, the physical act of building houses was attractive to Ciment. Reflecting on past builds he has worked on in America, he fondly remembers “where the whole group worked together as one body on one single project, especially alongside the homeowners.”

It didn’t take long, however, for Ciment to develop an interest in participating in a Global Builders trip internationally. Appropriately enough, it was a fellow cyclist that initiated his dream becoming a reality.

“Mike Oliphant, who rode the Natchez Trace with me in 2016, reached out to ask if I wanted to co-lead a Global Builders trip with him. I jumped at the chance.” After working out the details, the duo traveled to Pigñon, Haiti, last month

With the trip in the rear-view mirror, Ciment is even more deeply invested in The Fuller Center than he was before.

Ciment is quick to address the profound effect of cultural barriers on the experience: “Building in the US, it’s like having home-field advantage; you speak the language, you understand the culture. In Haiti, I didn’t speak the language, and I wasn’t necessarily aware of the full context of culture around me.”

Through the week, however, Ciment was impressed by the connections he and the team were able to form despite the barriers between them. “Through working side-by-side with somebody, you start to get to know them regardless of language and regardless of that cultural barrier. By the third day, there’s a certain silent ballet going on, you know each other well enough to work seamlessly without ever having spoken a sentence.”

Ciment reflects on the moment he began to integrate into the community around him. “Suez, a Haitian mason, was laying blocks, and he called for me to pick up a block for him. Instead of placing it for me, he let me place it in the mortar myself. It was kind of an extra step towards inviting me into a bigger portion of the building process, which was a really cool level of comfort that we reached together. Again, we still hadn’t spoken.”

“Through working side-by-side with somebody, you start to get to know them regardless of language and regardless of that cultural barrier.” — Connor Ciment

When asked if his week in Haiti affected how he saw the Fuller Center as a whole, Ciment didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely. You witness the dramatic impact you can have on a family’s life. It really brings me a lot of gratitude that I can be a part of such an organization.

“It also brings new meaning to the Bike Adventure, which is raising a lot of money. With this experience I can see infinitely more tangibly how impactful the fundraising is for folks in need, all over the world.”

Ciment left Haiti deeply impressed by the strong local Fuller Center leadership. “Gerald is doing an amazing job, and I am extremely proud to be working alongside him as his efforts go far beyond housing, most directly including education. The school that he is the principal for is churning out young leaders who will be the generation that continues to lift up Pigñon and lift up Haiti and bring it to be the healthy and prosperous country that it can be.”

Click here for more information on global builders

 

Seven years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Fuller Center’s work flourishes

Seven years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Fuller Center’s work flourishes

Seven years ago, a devastating 7.0-magnitude struck Haiti, which already had long been the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Tens of thousands died, and at least 200,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

In its wake, hundreds of millions of dollars from caring individuals and concerned groups flowed in to nonprofits aiming to help Haitians in their time of great need. Unfortunately, so much well-meaning aid was either wasted or misused. In the vast majority of those cases, it was not the result of corruption but of not understanding how to help.

However, amid all the problems were success stories. A small, grass-roots Christian nonprofit — The Fuller Center for Housing — provided some of the most visible examples of effective, enlightened charity … in the form of 188 simple, decent, safe homes built in partnership with Haitians.

Partnership is the key word in that last sentence. While many U.S.-based nonprofits parachuted into the country and tried to dictate every movement, The Fuller Center relied on the same approach that has proved so effective in communities across the United States and in 20 countries around the world — supporting local leaders on the ground. In a country like Haiti where there is a long history of troublesome, ineffective government, it’s especially important to have partners on the ground who can navigate such complicated territory.

haiti-working-together

Fuller Center Global Builders in Pignon, Haiti.

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Vote in the Fuller Center Global Builders’ annual photo contest

Vote in the Fuller Center Global Builders’ annual photo contest

Photos from Nepal, Haiti, Nicaragua, Thailand and Peru are among the 17 finalists in the Fuller Center Global Builders’ annual photo contest, and contest organizers would like your help in selecting the winner. The final two will be revealed on Friday, December 16 for the deciding round of voting.

Click here to see the finalists and vote

Make sure your gifts for Haiti aren’t squandered: Support proven grass-roots effectiveness

Make sure your gifts for Haiti aren’t squandered: Support proven grass-roots effectiveness

 

Support disaster recovery in Haiti

After a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January of 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and destroying about the same amount of homes, the outpouring of support for Haitians was impressive.

Millions of Americans, Canadians and others took to their smart phones and computers or whipped out their checkbooks and gave generously. More than $9.5 billion was raised for Haiti in the two years following the quake. The vast majority went to charities with a lot of name recognition and nonprofits with already sizeable budgets and bureaucracies.

But there was a problem: Haiti was and still is a very difficult place to work. The typical major nonprofit relief style of parachuting into a disaster zone and managing the effort rarely worked. And when it came time to rebuild homes, most Haitian families instead found themselves in tents or flimsy transitional shelters. As they waited for permanent, safe homes, the spotlight faded from Haiti and attention turned to other disasters. Tents and temporary shelters became all too permanent.

With just 12 percent of the $9.5 billion originally pledged for Haiti, The Fuller Center could have partnered with Haitian families to rebuild every single home destroyed by the quake.

Meanwhile, a small, grass-roots Christian housing ministry was called to help Haitians build permanent homes. While less than $1 million of that $9.5 billion was directed to The Fuller Center for Housing, the nonprofit founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 2005 nevertheless began to set the standard for nonprofit work in Haiti. Since 2010, The Fuller Center has built more than 185 permanent homes. To put that impact in perspective, with just 12 percent of the $9.5 billion originally pledged for Haiti, The Fuller Center could have partnered with Haitian families to rebuild every single home destroyed by the quake.

Too many tents and "transitional" houses would become permanent in Haiti in the years following the 2010 quake.

Too many tents and “transitional” houses would become permanent in Haiti in the years following the 2010 quake.

Years after The Fuller Center began working in the country, stories began to surface about millions of dollars meant to help Haiti instead being wasted, misused or utterly squandered. Headlines like “How the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars for Haiti and built six houses” began to show up in people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. (The Fuller Center, by the way, built those six houses with a grant from the Red Cross. Unfortunately, it was the only Red Cross grant offered to The Fuller Center.)

How did The Fuller Center succeed where others failed? Well, myriad reasons.

One, The Fuller Center practices “enlightened charity” in which families are full partners in the building process — whether that’s in Haiti, Nepal or here in the United States. Long before the quake hit Haiti, decades of well-meaning handouts created a culture of dependency in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. That culture of dependency was exacerbated by many relief efforts following the quake. It’s not easy to change such a mind-set in one person, and it’s even tougher to change the mind-sets of millions.

Few were interested in The Fuller Center’s partnership approach at first. A few families accepted the offer of a hand-up to build east of Port-au-Prince in Croix des Bouquets and west of the capital near Gressier. Slowly but surely, people began to notice that Fuller Center partner families were empowered, while those waiting around for handouts remained diminished.

Another major factor in The Fuller Center’s success internationally — and particularly in Haiti — is that the ministry works through local partners who already have an established presence on the ground. These local leaders are best equipped to work with third world government and deal with cultural nuances and often complex or vague regulatory environments.

One of those partners in Haiti was Grace International, which recognized the impact The Fuller Center was having house by house. They sought to concentrate that kind of impact in a single location. What resulted was a 56-home community called Lambi Village, a place where children’s laughter fills the tropical air and families have carved out a sustainable, healthy way of life in the countryside.

Haiti's Lambi Village is home to 56 Fuller Center partner families.

Haiti’s Lambi Village is home to 56 Fuller Center partner families.

The community was completed in 2014 thanks to the hard work of Haitian locals, teams of Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers and financial support of private donors and groups like the United Church of Christ, which, to date, has funded the construction of 32 Fuller Center homes in Haiti.

That success only planted more seeds of hope in Haiti, and The Fuller Center’s work has continued to grow. Since Lambi was completed, a more traditional Fuller Center partner formed in the northern town of Pignon, which remains busy hosting Global Builders volunteers and has built more than 25 beautiful new homes.

Fuller Center home in Pignon, Haiti.

Fuller Center home in Pignon, Haiti.

Yet another reason The Fuller Center’s work remains a success in Haiti is that unlike many larger nonprofits, the housing ministry works to help families build healthy lives outside of large third-world cities and slums. Those ugly images of flimsy shacks, filthy streets and sad faces from Port-au-Prince are opposite of what our volunteers witness in the countryside. Haiti is a beautiful country of happy families. You just have to look — and work — in the right places.

And while The Fuller Center utilizes volunteer labor (mostly from the United States), it also provides employment for Haitian laborers, especially masons. The volunteer teams work alongside locals instead of taking work from them. In fact, they support many other professions, including cooks, drivers and hotel staffs.

Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers work alongside local laborers.

Fuller Center Global Builders volunteers work alongside local laborers.

I would like to be optimistic and believe that in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, more people will search out the effective, grass-roots nonprofits like The Fuller Center who are making a direct, tangible impact in Haiti. But I fear there will be a repeat of massive amounts of well-meaning charitable gifts being sent down the usual, familiar paths. Again, millions likely will be squandered.

I’d urge anyone who wants to help Haitians to do your research. Visit the nonprofit’s website and peruse their financials. If they are not easily found (you can find The Fuller Center’s here), be wary. If they don’t have a record of transparency (The Fuller Center has received GuideStar’s Platinum rating for transparency), keep looking. In short, make sure your good will is not squandered. We saw enough of that six years ago.

The Fuller Center intends to expand its work in Haiti yet again in the wake of Matthew as the ministry is in active discussions with individuals and organizations planning to help residents in the Les Cayes/Port Salut area, which was among the regions hardest-hit by the recent hurricane. With your support, The Fuller Center will have a direct, permanent impact for more Haitian families and show other organizations how to get the job done right. Extend a hand-up that empowers families and lights a beacon of hope for a country desperately in need of it.

give to disaster recovery in haiti

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Prayers for Haiti as Hurricane Matthew makes landfall

Prayers for Haiti as Hurricane Matthew makes landfall

As Hurricane Matthew makes landfall in Haiti today, we here at the Fuller Center pray for the safety and health of the nation. The category 4 storm is expected to bring nearly two feet of rain to the nation, with winds up to 145 miles per hour.

Having long been the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti’s substandard construction industry often cannot stand up to natural disasters, resulting in collapsed buildings.

Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Fuller Center worked to build over 150 homes in Lambi and Croix-des-Bouquets. Currently, the Fuller Center works in the rural town of Pignon in northern Haiti.

“Our prayers are with the people of Haiti. The many houses we’ve built there make us especially aware of the hardship that is so much a fact of life in that troubled land. Our hope is that the additional difficulties the storm might bring are minor and that the island can quickly recover,” says Fuller Center president David Snell of the nation’s troubles.

 

RELATED LINKS: 

High school freshmen reflect on Global Builders trip to Haiti
Example-setting Lambi Village completed, dedicated in Haiti