If I had a hammer...
...Introducing co-Team Leaders: Ann Cooper and Larry Heinzerling
We've both traveled widely as foreign correspondents, but now also try to "make a difference" by joining or leading Global Village, home-building teams for Habitat for Humanity International. We've been to Anchorage, Alaska, twice, to Sri Lanka, Kenya and Vietnam. If you'd like to get some idea of what a Habitat adventure is like, check out this video
made by Judy Cao, a team member who joined us for our second build in Kenya in January 2013.
We live in New York, where we met and were married in 2001. Ann teaches broadcast journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She formerly served as director of the Committee to Protect Journalists and before that was a foreign correspondent in the former Soviet Union and later South Africa for National Public Radio. Ann was born in California but raised in Yuma, Arizona, and is a graduate of Iowa State University.
Larry worked for 41 years for The Associated Press as a foreign correspondent and news executive. He served as West Africa Correspondent based in Lagos, Nigeria, then was chief of bureau in South Africa and later Germany and then moved to New York where he retired as deputy international editor in 2009. Larry was born in Ohio but was raised in Europe and Africa. He is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University with an MA from Ohio State University.
For us, joining and leading Global Village teams means traveling across America and to distant lands with a vision ... to eliminate poverty housing, making a true difference in the lives of those less fortunate, with like-minded volunteers. The work is not hard, but rewarding, the new friendships made are not superficial, but long-lasting, the impact unforgettable. We've worked side-by-side with Muslim refugees from Russia; Vietnamese families in the Mekong Delta; a Hmong family in Alaska, far from Laos, its native land; Sri Lankan fishermen, their wives and children; a Palestinian refugee, who fled Iraq after the U.S. invasion, an American couple whose trailer home was destroyed by fire, and Kenyans displaced from their homes by inter-tribal violence following the disputed election of 2007 .
Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes, but assists in developing housing for those of modest income and little or no capital who can afford modest mortgages that cover the expense of the land and materials needed for construction. Habitat volunteers, guided by local construction professionals, provide free labor and make a donation through trip costs that help finance more homes in a never-ending cycle. In every case, the locally selected families are required to put in sweat equity and savings of their own, so that Habitat volunteers are not "giving" anyone anything but rather working together in solidarity with deserving people. It is not a question of charity, it's a matter of justice. We fully subscribe to Habitat's global mission to eliminate substandard housing and make affordable housing a matter of conscience and action.
Kenya's 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for environmental efforts to help the poor, Wangari Muta Maathai, has a thought that resonates with us: "Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking."