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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A week under the hot sun in India building a house for someone else inspired Maj. Jeremy Huffaker to lay the foundation for a new organization at Misawa.

This fall, Huffaker, the 610th Air Control flight commander, founded Habitat for Humanity, Misawa. It’s only the second chapter of its kind in Japan, and the first, it’s believed, at a U.S. military base on mainland Japan or Okinawa.

So far, about 50 people have expressed interest in the group, which is hoping to send volunteers to a Habitat for Humanity home-building project in Mongolia in June.

“It’s open to anybody. Interest is all that’s required,” Huffaker said.

In August 2006, Huffaker was part of a Jimmy Carter Work Project in rural Lonavala, India, sponsored by Habitat for Humanity. In one week, several thousand volunteers built 800-square-foot homes for 100 Indian women who otherwise could not have afforded home ownership.

The experience deeply affected Huffaker, who grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee, where he observed poverty and substandard housing.

“Seeing the homeowners realizing their dream … that they now have a fighting chance due to the fact that they now have this home,” he said. “That’s the payoff.”

Upon his return to Misawa, Huffaker found that people were interested in hearing his stories about his India experience.

“They were intrigued,” he said. “They wanted to know, ‘How did you find out about it? Why don’t we have that at Misawa?’”

Most of the organization’s work at Misawa will be focused on participating in Habitat International’s ongoing projects in the Asia Pacific region, where homes are being built in impoverished areas. Limited volunteer work also is available in Japan, where housing needs are different, Huffaker said.

Huffaker, Senior Airman Joe Bordonaro and Senior Airman Song Lee volunteered through the Habitat affiliate in Tokyo to help reconstruct and clean up homes damaged last spring in the Nanao peninsula earthquake.

Habitat Misawa also is looking at sending volunteers to upcoming projects in Thailand and the Philippines, but Mongolia is the first for which they’ll try to raise funds to help cover some of the team members’ costs, Huffaker said.

Habitat volunteers must pay for airfare, as well as provide a stipend to Habitat for Humanity to cover ground transportation, lodging and meals at a project site, and a partial donation for supplies.

People don’t have to be skilled laborers to participate, Huffaker noted. In India, volunteers lifted cinder blocks, pushed wheelbarrows and painted window frames; one 80-year-old man ferried bananas and water to volunteers.

Habitat Misawa also needs people to help with fundraising, accounting, and educational events at Misawa.

“I hope we can get people from every walk of life here at Misawa (to participate),” Huffaker said, from young airmen and sailors to spouses and civilians. “That broadens our resources of experience and skills.”

The next Habitat meeting is scheduled for late January or early February.

Contact Huffaker at Jeremy.huffaker@gmail.com to get on the group’s e-mail list. Residents of other bases in Japan interested in participating in Habitat projects also may contact Huffaker for more information.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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