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Habitat for inhumanity

By Paul Walfield
web posted June 9, 2003

What would possess someone to spend a huge sum of money building a testament to the rancid living conditions some of the world's underprivileged and deprived masses live in? Actually, on the surface it may make sense to some, but not if you take the time to think about it.

Does anyone actually need to see a train wreck to want safe trains? That's the mentality of the folks over at Habitat for Humanity. Yes, that's the same Habitat for Humanity made famous because of former President Jimmy Carter's involvement. The group, founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, builds houses for indigent families, mostly in the United States, but also in many other parts of the world.

Habitat is beginning a new construction project on 6 1/2 acres of land right outside of Americus, Georgia. We needn't be concerned about the cost and the fact that the project is not intended to bring affordable housing to people who really need it, no, it is to attract tourists. And how do people who build homes for the poor with other people's money attract tourists? Well, according to an article in the Boston Globe on June 2, 2003, you build a theme park depicting the most repellant slums ever to grace the planets poorest third world cities and countries. For the folks at Habitat, Americans will be so enthralled with the idea of seeing how children live "in shacks infested with scorpions or snakes," they will come to Americus by the tens of thousands.

According to the article, Mr. Fuller explains, "Essentially, it's a theme park for poverty housing," adding, "You'll come out of the center and walk right into a slum. You'll see the kind of pitiful living conditions so many people in the world have." Think about it. The people who build decent housing for America's poor, is building a slum depicting the world's raunchiest housing. All with the anticipation that people who can donate money will be curious enough to vacation in Americus, Georgia and donate money to the "cause." It's kind of like medical researchers displaying diseased individuals in a cordoned off section of a hospital and charging admission.

Just what kind of people will want to travel to Americus to see the new "Global Village"? Well, according to the Boston Globe, Dick Kuegeman, the Global Village's executive director said, "The folks who come over in this direction are people who are socially aware." Which begs the question, if they are already "socially aware," why do they need to see the filth, wretchedness, and misery up close and personal? Also, what kind of perception of the American people do you have to have to presume that Americans will come year after year in huge numbers to see first hand, without getting dirty, how horrible some people are forced to live?

It would be interesting to see the math that was done to arrive at the decision to use the limited monies received by Habitat for Humanity to build a theme park rather than houses for the indigent. How do you explain to families without decent housing that they will have to wait because in the long run, people who would not ordinarily give to Habitat will, and give even more after seeing how horrific some people's living conditions are. After all, everyone understands that human beings need to see horrors before they understand what horrible is, don't they?

Habitat for Humanity is a very worthwhile cause. Building homes for the homeless and indigent is humanity at its best. However, building slums with the expectation of attracting well-to-do curiosity seekers is at the same time displaying the indifference and inhumanity some in the world show towards the less fortunate, and a spotlight on humankinds basest of instincts to be attracted to view such things.

Up to now, most people who gave to the organization no doubt understood that people, no matter where from, deserved a decent place to live free from vermin, pests and the elements. More importantly, it was, though maybe a bit naïve to believe that the money given to Habitat was used exclusively for the purpose of creating a living space for people who did not have a place of their own. It is just a bit disheartening to find out that the money is being used for a theme park to attract "tourists" to come see how the "other half" lives rather than use that money to do what the organization started out doing, building houses.

It is also a bit of a disappointment to learn that the people in charge of Habitat either believe that people are so devoid of compassion, understanding, imagination and intelligence that they need to be hit over the head with bad experiences to accept the fact that there are individuals in the world who are less fortunate than folks who can afford to travel to Americus, Georgia for vacation. Of course, they may be thinking about the marketing around the theme park. They could have concession stands and gift shops selling used trash bags for clothing, cardboard boxes for shelters and rat meat burgers and "recovered" (from yesterdays trash) hotdogs. There is nothing like hands on experience to get the donor money coming in and the volunteers signing up.

Then again, maybe they'll start a trend… Disneyland will have a "poor town" (instead of Toon town). Mickey could have tattered clothes and a cup to beg for change. Goofy could live in a cardboard box. Knottsberry Farm could put in Slummy Village (instead of Snoopy), and Snoopy could be depicted as starved and crazy mutt. Even Six Flags could please it's guests with Yosemite Sam getting down on his luck, living on a bench and eating bugs for dinner, as the only sustenance he could afford. Now that's entertainment.

Paul Walfield is a freelance writer and an attorney and counselor at law with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and post-graduate study in behavioral and analytical psychology. He resided for a number of years in the small town of Houlton, Maine and is now practicing law and writing about current events. Paul can be contacted at paul.walfield@cox.net.

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