Fuller Center helps South African widow, large family overhaul home

Most of the work that The Fuller Center for Housing’s international covenant partners do around the world involves the building of new homes in places where families are otherwise living in flimsy shacks and unsafe tents.

There is certainly a need for new homes in South Africa, but Fuller Center Western Cape President Louis Green is putting the Greater Blessing repair program — a focus of many U.S. Covenant partners — to good use.

“We are doing the Greater Blessing program in South Africa until we have enough experience, expertise, volunteers and resources to start the building of new homes, which is our ultimate goal,” Green said.

In December, the Fuller Center Western Cape made Christmas much brighter for Sarah Meyer of Bonteheuwel, Cape Town. The 63-year-old widow has been living in a government project house for more than 30 years, but the small home she shares with four adult children and 20 grandchildren had fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair. In fact, one of her children opted to build a wood and iron shack in the backyard as a preferred alternative.

“When the board members of Fuller Center for Housing did an inspection of her home, we were horrified,” Green recalled. “The walls inside and outside the house were dirty and desperately needed some paint.”

What truly alarmed the board members was the state of the electrical wiring in the house.

“She had access to electricity but was doing all her daily chores like washing, ironing and the preparation of food using a single 30-amp circuit breaker connected to a single wall plug and connecting all the appliances to the one plug,” Green said. “As a result, she experienced constant overloads on the single wall plug, causing power failures every single day. It was obvious to us that her distribution box, which was 40 years old was outdated and in need of urgent repairs.”

Because the Greater Blessing program helps homeowners, The Fuller Center first had to work with the government to get Meyer the title to the home. Next, they helped the family get the tools and materials needed to get the work accomplished.

“We recruited all her children and grandchildren and divided them into groups to do the electrical repair work, the cleaning and repairing of walls and floor, and the painting of walls and ceilings throughout the entire house, inside as well as outside,” Green said. “It took us two weeks to complete the work, but what a difference it made to the entire family. We completed the work three days before Christmas.

“Instead of one wall plug with a single circuit, the Meyers had eight,” he added. “Instead of drab, filthy walls, the Meyers had brightly painted rooms with clean ceilings. For many years, the Meyers washed their clothing by hand, but this year they celebrated Christmas with a new automatic washing machine.”

Green served 15 years in the South African Parliament, taking office in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s president. During that time, he saw much progress made by the government on many issues — but not so much in the area of housing. He said that The Fuller Center’s requirement of full participation from its homeowner partners empowers communities in ways that handouts cannot.

“This is something that could greatly change the mind-set of South Africans,” he said last year upon the founding of Fuller Center Western Cape. “Our government has had the approach of handing out empty houses, and the only work the person does is to receive the key when the ribbon is being cut.”

The Meyer family stands as one example of how people have the power to help themselves into better living conditions when they partner with an organization extending a hand-up instead of a handout. Green is focused on using such Greater Blessing success stories as a springboard to addressing South Africa’s housing issues on a larger scale.

“Two million families are living in shacks — and we are one of the richest gold-producing countries in the world,” he said. “I don’t have the full plan of how it will be done, but nothing is impossible with God. I like Millard Fuller’s words when he said, ‘We must do our best with what we have, and God will do the rest.’ So, for now, we will renovate homes of needy families until we are ready to build new homes.”

Bishop Louis Michael Green explains the need for The Fuller Center’s work in South Africa:

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