Building hope

Faculty of Medicine sponsors Habitat for Humanity Build

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Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba
Wave, Summer 2013

What is our role as physicians in our community and in the global community?

As a faculty, we believe that social accountability is a core value for our students and physicians to practice for the well-being of all members of society.

Some 1.3 million Canadian households are in core housing need. That's three million people - up 77 per cent from 2002. An astonishing one in seven children lives in poverty in Canada.

In 2006, the United Nations reported that, "Canada is facing a national emergency on poverty, welfare, homelessness and housing."

So what can we do? I envisioned our faculty, staff and students "giving back" to build a house for a Manitoba family in need. As the figures above - supplied by Habitat for Humanity - show, there is clearly a gulf in our community when it comes to affordable housing.

I am extremely proud that we are the first Faculty of Medicine in Canada to partner with Habitat for Humanity.

Sandy Hopkins, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Manitoba, explained that Habitat "does not give houses away" but sells the homes at market value to low-income families that qualify. The organization, which builds approximately 20 houses per year in Manitoba, is self-sustaining.

As a partner, we have raised funds and supplied approximately 125 volunteer builders - students, faculty, staff - for the house build on the University of Manitoba Bannatyne Campus. Genworth Canada is another major contributor to this year's build. The home will be moved to its permanent location in East Kildonan in August.

The impact of this new home for a family of six is potentially transformative. Hopkins reported that a recent survey of Habitat families in Winnipeg found since moving into their homes 93 per cent believe their lives are more positive; 80 per cent state their family's physical health has improved; and 67 per cent say their children have excelled in school.

Other research cited by Hopkins indicates that "children of Habitat families are more likely to finish high school and continue in postsecondary education than children in the same economic bracket."

When we kicked off our two-week build June 10, Minister of Health Theresa Oswald talked about students giving up holiday time to volunteer because they "got" that a safe and affordable home was key to health. And since then, the enthusiasm and commitment shown by our medical students have been inspiring.

I want to thank all volunteers who gave their time (about 1,000 hours in total!) to grab a hammer and get to work - most days under a blazing sun. As well, thanks to Dr. Bruce Martin, Associate Dean, Students, who led the charge in the Faculty; co-chair Dr. Gerry Minuk, Professor/ Section Head, Hepatology, Internal Medicine; and Aramark for serving as food and beverage sponsor.

It has been a wonderful experience to participate in this house build and to observe how skilled the Habitat for Humanity leaders are in ensuring everything is constructed properly - or explaining with patience and respect to novice builders if something had to be taken down and redone. It's no wonder Habitat for Humanity resonates with so many people. It is a concrete means to "giving a hand up" to those who could not otherwise afford a home and building hope for a better life to families in our community.

I am humbled that we, as a Faculty of Medicine, could contribute to this endeavour.

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