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Local chosen for humanitarian journey

Frank Fisher, Of the Record staff

She’s never built a house before, but Christine De Voy wasn’t daunted when she joined in with 29 other volunteers, building four houses in under a week for impoverished families living near Johannesburg, South Africa.

De Voy, a Park City resident, was one of 30 Delta Airlines employees chosen to make Delta’s Dec. 4 inaugural flight to Johannesburg a meaningful one. Delta teamed with non-profit Habitat for Humanity International, to build homes for people in need.

The Delta employees chosen for the trip all had over 150 hours of annual community service.

The 30 employees were split into four groups, each building a house in the township of Katlehong, once torn by the strife of apartheid, which ended in the early ‘ 90s.

Volunteers and dignitaries from Atlanta, boarded a 767 for the 17-hour flight, with one refueling stop in Dakar.

Katlehong lies at an elevation of nearly a mile, and is situated in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It has a moderatel climate, with summer temperatures in the 80s, and mild conditions year around. But the mild conditions contrast sharply with the inhabitants’ severe existence, where De Voy said 20 percent of the inhabitants are infected with HIV. Running water is scarce, and many families obtain their water from a hose attached to a community faucet. De Voy said it is common for six to 10 families to share a community toilet.

Delta Airlines provided the volunteers with lodging, meals, tours and a safari, De Voy said. "To be in a luxurious hotel and see such poverty, broke your heart every day."

Ten million South Africans live in poverty, and 2.5 million have no homes, De Voy said

De Voy helped build a home for Alexis, 75, and his wife, who was 70 years old. His given name is not Alexis. To pronounce his name in his native language takes a series of intricate clicking sounds with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, De Voy said.

This was the first home Alexis and his wife would ever live in. They had spent their lives living on a dirt floor living under cardboard and tin. When the home was completed, "he had tears, we all had tears," De Voy said. "His family will live in this house, and then their family. They plan to always have this house."

To obtain a Habitat for Humanity home, future dwellers have to be in great need. They have to help the community by helping build other HFHI homes and they also must help build their own home.

"Alexis was the youngest acting 75-year-old I’ve ever seen," De Voy said. Alexis and his wife worked all daylight hours placing 25-pound cement blocks and covering them with Dunga, a mix of local red clay and sand.

Each home had a living area, two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom. Each had a corrugated roof, windows and two doors. De Voy and other volunteers were guided by a HFHI supervisor, Gorgina. Volunteers did all of the work except for laying the foundation and cement floor.

HFHI homes are not given away, new owners have to make small payments, which are reinvested by the organization to buy materials for future homes.

HFHI has built more than 200,000 houses around the world, providing more than one million people with safe, affordable shelter.

De Voy and the other volunteers asked KAVOSH, the local community organization working with HFHI, how they could further help the community. Members said the town could use a brick-making machine to make the blocks used in the houses, then sell the blocks to HFHI to support the community. Delta said it would match any contributions. The funds were raised for the machine.

In a last act of kindness, De Voy gave her shoes to a shoeless deaf child.

When the work was done, volunteers went on a safari and toured the Nelson Mandela Museum, complements of Delta.

During the final dinner before catching the flight back to Atlanta, De Voy tripped, fell, on the way to the dessert table, breaking her leg "I shouldn’t have returned for the bread pudding," she said.

Would De Voy like to return to further help the residents of Katlehong? "Oh for sure. Yes, I hope to go back."

For more information about Habitat for Humanity International, visit http://www.habitat.org or call (800)422-4828


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