Church provides homes for migrant workers

The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea has turned housing developer in an effort to provide homes for migrant workers.

In exchange, the local community will get voluntary help such as cleaning hospitals.

The Saint John XXIII housing project is in the town of Kokopo, capital of East New Britain province.

Although Kokopo’s population is still only 26,000, it has mushroomed from 3,000 since it replaced Rabaul as provincial capital in 1994 after a volcanic eruption destroyed 80 percent of Rabaul’s buildings.

Many of the incomers are low-paid manual workers who cannot afford to buy or rent houses so squatter settlements have sprung up where standards of health and hygiene are very poor.

“There are regular deaths in these settlements owing to inadequate hygiene,” said  Doug Tennent, the archdiocese’s administrator.

The archdiocese of Rabaul decided to tackle this problem as one element of a three-part response to Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si (On the Care of our Common Home).

It is also returning former plantation land to local people and helping the people of West Pomio district to obtain a fair agreement with a Malaysian multinational over land being used for a palm oil project.

For the housing project, the archdiocese will provide 60 hectares (148 acres) of church-owned land. Drainage and roads will be installed and houses will be built on plots of 800 square metres (8,000 sq ft) so that occupants can have a vegetable garden.

Four houses have already been built by a group of Italian volunteers and work is proceeding on other prototypes. The eventual aim is to build 240 in four stages, with 60 in each stage.

A key focus is sustainability, including the use of solar panels for electricity and compost toilets.

The archdiocese will cover half the cost of the houses, estimated at US$17,640, and occupants will be expected to pay the rest. But because most will be among the very poor, so-called “sweat equity” will be employed.

Under this concept developed by the non-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity, the project’s beneficiaries will help with the construction work as well as doing other tasks for the archdiocese and the community, such as helping out in hospitals.

Following an appeal from the archdiocese, the British all-volunteer charity SPICMA (Special Projects in Christian Missionary Areas) is raising funds for the project.

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