The initiative aims to build ten houses each in Tembisa, Gauteng, and Witsand, Western Cape, between August and November, at the rate of one house a week. The houses will be handed over to families that have always lived in shacks and have had no access to running water or electricity.
Mellon Housing, a non-profit organisation working with government to create sustainable human settlements, brings to the project building experts who pass on their skills to members of the community and who oversee corporate volunteers, such as those from Standard Bank, to ensure that all work done on the houses meets stringent standards.
As it was last year, in 2011 Standard Bank is one of corporate sponsors of the Mellon Housing Initiative, contributing some R1.8 million to materials and site facilities. “About 90 staff members worked on the houses in Witsand, Atlantis during August and when they came back into the business with stories about what an incredibly emotional experience it had been to enable families move out of shacks that they’d lived in for generations, another 176 people signed up immediately for the project,”.
“The interest and enthusiasm from our employees has been humbling,” says Standard Bank PBB provincial director for the Western Cape, Johan van Wyk. “Each site can only accommodate a specific number of people, “That enthusiasm on the ground has been matched by those employees who stay behind in the offices and branches to cover for those taking a day or two out of their working week to mix cement, paint walls, and nail down roofs. In other words, the teams on site are part of a much larger Standard Bank team that is going the extra miles to make sure the houses are built on time and to the desired standards so that the recipient families don’t have to wait a second longer than necessary to have a brick and mortar home.”
The volunteers come from all ranks within the bank and the region, ranging from tellers and senior relationship managers to provincial executive committee members. The goal is to complete one house every seven days.
“Being relevant to the communities in which we operate is one of Standard Bank’s fundamental values and, although our employees love to give of their time at orphanages and underprivileged schools, for instance, building a house in seven days for people who have probably grown up in crowded conditions in a one-roomed cardboard or corrugated iron shack enables them to change people’s lives for the better in the space of just seven days.”
“It also enables them to meet people within the bank whom they would otherwise not encounter. And, sweating side by side over a wheelbarrow or a muddy trench breaks down the hierarchical barriers that are often unavoidable in a bank. Both executives and employees from other ranks within the organisation discover that there are real people behind the business titles they carry.
“In a way, the Mellon Housing Initiative enables employees to create their own ‘region’ within a region, forging the kinds of links across departments and branches that develop camaraderie and morale throughout the bank.”
Johan believes, too, that handing over a house to a poor family does more than provide desperately needed healthy and safe accommodation. “It inspires people to have hope for their future and realise that they have the power to change their own world for the better.
Being able to participate collectively in the house building, even if only by manning a desk for someone else who’s getting their hands extremely dirty, enables all us to prove to the wider community that that we care, even if you don’t bank with us.”
Standard Bank’s Employee Community Involvement programme offers staff different ways of getting to know their communities and to be a part of what really helps create positive change in the lives of people. And, when either individual employees or groups of employees make donations to community initiatives or non-profit organisations registered in South Africa, the programme matches the contributions made.