On Saturday, the Trivandrum Fuller Center for Housing will dedicate its 28th home in the state of Kerala, India, considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest paradises — with the exception of the thousands of families who are struggling to survive and living in flimsy, unsafe shacks.
It is against this backdrop where poverty and paradise collide that T.H. Lawrence launched a Fuller Center covenant partner there in 2009, a partner that has gotten a significant boost since Fuller Center Global Builders teams began arriving two years ago.
“It’s certainly a tropical delight,” said Dr. Chris Grant, who led the very first Global Builders team to India in 2012, a team comprised of Service Scholars from Mercer University. “It is absolutely beautiful, and then you look at the conditions of the housing that so many people live in, you realize that even in a spot this beautiful you’re going to find poverty.”
India has since become a popular Global Builders destination, which has brought more volunteers, awareness and funds for the work in Kerala — so much so that Lawrence has been inspired to set more ambitious goals.
“We hope to accomplish in the next two years what we have achieved in the last five or six,” he said. “By the time we ring in 2020, we will have built a total of 250 houses. That’s our target.”
Both Fuller Center President David Snell and Director of International Field Operations Ryan Iafigliola said that solid organizational structure and dedicated leadership have been instrumental to The Fuller Center’s growing success in India.
“I had the privilege of visiting with T.H. Lawrence in Trivandrum in the earliest days of the life of The Fuller Center,” Snell said. “He was eager to get the work started there and has done a remarkable job of building a solid board that has quietly and deliberately gone about the business of getting families into decent homes.
“This is a model covenant partner with a hands-on, all-volunteer board, a thoughtful family selection and nurture process and results,” he added. “The good Lord has blessed their efforts, and those efforts have been significant.”
“The Fuller Center in India is the perfect example of how a Fuller Center organization should be led,” Iafigliola concurred. “They have a highly dedicated Board of Directors that consists of seven Indians, all volunteering their time and efforts. They meet monthly and never stop working to continue Millard Fuller’s vision. The result is a highly efficient operation that gets things done and is really making a difference.”
The infusion of Global Builders volunteers was key to the work taking off as the team members not only bring energy to the worksite but also pay fees that help fund the work.
“They love hosting teams and would be further encouraged by any groups like churches or schools who would like to visit them,” Iafigliola said. “They can also use donations to help them build more homes.”
Lawrence said that 20 of the 28 homes were built with funds that came from outside India.
Lexi Hurst was a student volunteer on the first Global Builders trip to India. She said that the people of Kerala are the reason it is an attractive destination for volunteers.
“They helped us, they encouraged us and they wanted to get to know us,” she said of her 2012 trip. “ They just loved being around us and it made working and building their houses so much more enjoyable and more meaningful.”
Lawrence said the Indian people’s lives are forever changed by the partnership with The Fuller Center and its volunteers.
“Each member of the homeowner family invariably experiences the positive effects from having a good house to live in,” he said. “The children in these families continue to enjoy a sort of social upgrade or uplift after getting to live in their own simple, decent and durable homes.”