Habitat for Humanity India hosted the Anthony Miller and Cecilia Melin Legacy Build in Karjat, Maharashtra from 16th to 20th February. The 5-day build saw volunteers help two families in Gawandewadi realise their dream of a decent home. Based out of Japan, Anthony Miller is a member of Habitat’s Asia Pacific Development Council, and Cecilia Melin is Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Habitat Japan. The family have been one of the staunchest allies for Habitat and the families we work with at the grassroots.
Anthony and Cecilia, could you share with us the story of how you began your journey with Habitat for Humanity?
Anthony Miller: About 12 years ago, I was looking for a charity for my children to get involved in. A few months later, I started talking to this person who was in front of me in a queue at an event. He turned out to be Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International! He invited me and my family to join him on a build in Malawi, Africa. But instead we gave that money to Habitat and spent a little less on a trip to build with Habitat Vietnam. It was a life-changing experience for our children.
Cecilia Melin: Tony and I started to go on Habitat builds with our children and we were so impressed by how committed people were. We had the opportunity to visit different communities and we continued to go every year. Between us, we have been on 16 Habitat builds all around Asia.
A few years back, I was invited to join the board of Habitat Japan and a while later, I was asked to become the Chair. It has been a fulfilling experience - taking the involvement from volunteering to actually building Habitat and its vision for Japan.
What do you feel about volunteering with Habitat?
Cecilia Melin: I can vouch for the positive experience volunteering with Habitat gives you. You gain so much and you feel good about what you are doing. At first, you think it is going to be dirty, but then you get into the work and also get to know the people in the community which is a soul satisfying experience. That is the greatest part of volunteering – it’s a powerful way to change to society.
Anthony Miller: It is a huge benefit to business people like us, because we get to see a part of society that we otherwise would not see. It’s a huge benefit to the kids as well, who get to have a social experience. Here in Karjat - the damming of the river to lift water, providing water wheels, helping community members set up a catering service to supply lunches for the builds - Habitat is making a tremendous contribution to this society.
Could you tell us about one of your favourite memories with Habitat?
Anthony Miller: On my first build, we were in southern Vietnam. One of the children of the families we were building with had swollen feet. So,one of the volunteers took out an EpiPen (injection with adrenaline) and stabbed the swollen feet. In 10 minutes he was better. This incident inspired my daughter to go to medical school.
Cecilia Melin: I have so many memories! If you had spoken to me last week, the answer would have been different. But today, I would say the India build here has been the best!
What would you like to say to other successful business leaders like you, to encourage support for organizations like Habitat for Humanity?
Cecilia Melin: We can always do a lot more if companies think a little bit out of the box. Volunteering with Habitat is a great way to build teamwork. Getting people to come out in the field and build homes,whether they are the youth or individuals from corporates, is a great thing to do. For corporations who have that culture, it also helps reinforce that the company is trying to incorporate good values, which is so important in business.
Anthony Melin: It is too easy to go through the motios. But doing just that means you waste your time, money and resources. What would be more productive is to give your employees an experience. And not the usual “save humanity” spin, but have them do something that’s good and has tangible results, rather than just donate their money to such organisations. India is a really interesting country and in an interesting time in its life. It’s only going to get better, and everyone will benefit from building the country together brick by brick.