Building Hope

April 22-28, 2004
Building Hope
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Utica Native to Travel to Africa with Habitat for Humanity

UTICA –– This June, Meghan O’Neill Mahoney, a junior at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., will not be spending her summer vacation like most of her peers. Instead of sun and fun, she and a group of 11 Holy Cross students will travel to Zambia, Africa with Habitat for Humanity International. At the end of their three-week stay, two families living in the desolate third-world country will know the comfort of sleeping in the warmth of their own houses. “Words cannot express how incredibly excited I am to have been granted this unique opportunity,” Mahoney said. “The people of Zambia live in complete poverty. I am fortunate to have the chance to help some of them.”

Habitat for Humanity Zambia stems from and is a part of the Habitat for Humanity International family, which operates in more than 85 countries. Millard and Linda Fuller in the U.S. founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976. It is based on the Biblical principle of helping those in need so that no one is left behind when those more fortunate can make a difference for them. Mahoney, a Utica native, and her team members will live in the Zambian community of Ndoloa at the Habitat Affiliate of Nkwazi. To date, 10 houses have been built in Nkwazi. The team will bring a little slice of hope to people who live in dire poverty. According to Larry English, director of Habitat for Humanity Africa and the Middle East Urban Initiatives, Habitat for Humanity’s goal to eliminate poverty from the face of the earth is particularly challenging in countries such as Africa.

“The greatest impact need for housing is the slums in the hundreds of cities in Africa and the world,” said English. Despite recent reforms, Zambia’s economy continues to flounder. As a result, an estimated 86 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment stands at about 50 percent. Unlike most homes in the U.S., the houses in Zambia are built from cement blocks, stone foundations and cement tile roofs. “The houses that we build will be very basic structures with a few different rooms,” Mahoney said. Most houses and facilities do not have electricity, plumbing or running water. Mahoney and her team will experience these third-world living conditions first-hand. To prepare for the trip, the team holds weekly meetings where they discuss their up-coming trip. “We all have our own worries,” said Mahoney, “like what we will eat.” The hope that they will bring to the families will outweigh any of the team’s apprehensions, said Mahoney.

“We will be experiencing third-world conditions for a couple of weeks. The people who live there do not know any other way to live,” she said. “When we leave, at least one more family will know what it is like to sleep in the shelter of a house.” Mahoney attended Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School and is a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. She still carries with her today the values the two institutions instilled in her as a young girl. “I am pleased to say that the lessons of love and service that I learned at a young age as a student at Our Lady of Lourdes are still a passionate part of my life,” she said. In order for Mahoney and her team to travel to Zambia, they must raise money for the cost of the trip. The cost comes to approximately $3000 for each team member. Mahoney has been busy writing numerous letters to churches in the Utica area and sponsoring on-campus activities at Holy Cross. She is amazed by people’s generosity.

“I have gotten such a positive response from people in our area, many of whom I do not even know,” Mahoney said. “It really makes me proud to come from such a wonderful community like Central New York, as well as the amazing Christian community within our diocese.” Mahoney added the team still has a way to go before they reach their goal. “Any and all aid that we receive is greatly appreciated, as it goes directly to this amazing cause to which we are so dedicated,” she said. “Our team has faith that others will understand and help us achieve our goal of diminishing the plight of these people who are not just distant third-world inhabitants, but citizens of the global community of which we are all a part.” Upon her return, Mahoney hopes to share her experience in Zambia with the Holy Cross and Utica communities. “I am eager to share my trip with the people,” she said. “Sometimes, you look around and wonder where compassion and love for your neighbors has gone. This endeavor serves as proof that students are still aware of the Christian message of love and compassion.”

Contributions may be sent to Holy Cross Habitat International, c/o Meghan O. Mahoney, P.O. Box 1828, One College St., Worcester, Mass. 01610.

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