In addition to housing and poverty issues in developing countries, Habitat for Humanity also helps address housing challenges in developed countries. “Project HomeWorks” offers support in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore where increase in the elderly population and limited community network are common social challenges. The project provides housing repair and cleaning support primarily to people who are unable to maintain living environments by themselves due to reasons such as age, disabilities, and low income. Another focus for this project is to provide repair services to temporary housing facilities such as shelters for the needy that are operated by our partner organizations. These activities need volunteer support and have increased opportunities for us to partner with various corporate volunteer groups who support Habitat’s mission.

With the support of MetLife Foundation headquartered in NY, partnership between MetLife Japan and Habitat in Japan has come to fruition. In October 2018, a total of 37 MetLife Japan employees, including their friends and family, participated in three Project HomeWorks activities. 10 people gathered at a shelter in the suburb near Tokyo for the first activity on October 6th. The shelter is a temporary living facility to help homeless people overcome their challenging situation. The shelter consists of an office and a salon space on the first floor, and standard apartment units on the second floor. Every person is given an individual unit in order to protect privacy, and allow physical and mental peace. Due to the aging building, there were wear and tear in various areas of the shelter. One of the units couldn’t even be used due to poor conditions.

With guidance from carpenters, the volunteers spent an entire day painting interior walls and repairing screens. They were able to improve the living and common areas of the shelter where approximately 17 residents live and 30 people come to consult every year. Participating volunteers described the activity as “informative opportunity to learn about shelters” and “valuable experience to learn from carpenters and architects.”

Second and third activities (on October 17th and October 31st, respectively) were held at private residences. 9 people attended the second activity and 18 people attended the third activity to support six home partners from 5 households. The home partners face various challenges and their living environments required significant improvements. For example, 72-year old Uchiyama-san (pseudonymized) suffers from quivers and weakness from a stroke several years ago. Uchiyama-san used to enjoy studying English by watching movies and cooking.

However, ever since the stroke which caused the inability to clean, Uchiyama-san’s house has become unorganized with piled up books and clothes. (Refer to this link for Uchiyama-san’s home partner story.)

With the help of the MetLife Japan volunteer team, the residence was organized and cleaned, shelves and beds were repaired, and kitchen and bedroom were decluttered. Beddings have been replaced by new ones to improve hygiene. Habitat’s joint activity with MetLife Japan this year improved residences of four households in addition to Uchiyama-san. Many thanks to MetLife Foundation and MetLife Japan for their support.

Home partners themselves participate in cleaning support activities as much as possible. During our recent activities, all of the home partners participated in sorting out needed versus unneeded items, and proactively communicated with and expressed gratitude to our volunteers. We heard volunteers make comments such as “this experience allowed me to learn about what living was like in the old days through organizing household items and speaking with the residents” and “I realized that the degradation of living environment can happen to anyone.” Opportunities to interact with volunteers are invaluable for home partners. Habitat will continue to work with volunteers to improve living environments and help build relationships.