Maze exhibit draws attention to 1 billion people living in slums

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LOS ANGELES — Countless mazes of recycled wood and tin, plastic tarps and cardboard create a community just south of California's border with Mexico. Within a few miles of tremendous affluence, the residents of Tijuana call these slums by a familiar word: home."

They are among more than 1 billion people worldwide who live in similar slums without the hope of adequate shelter, clean water or sanitation.

In an effort to draw attention to the housing deficit, Habitat for Humanity brought its traveling maze exhibit to Los Angeles on Oct. 28 as part of the 24th annual Jimmy Carter Work Project.

The maze, described as a visual representation of those who live in substandard shelter, made its debut Oct. 1 on the National Mall in Washington, in conjunction with World Habitat Day 2007.

The exhibit, combining graphic illustrations with narration, highlighted the paths of two children, one from a rural village and another from an urban slum. Together they showed the public and Congressional leaders the harsh reality of living in poverty housing.

It unveiled the conditions of tiny, unventilated rooms where millions of people wake up to the daily struggle to find clean drinking water and the disease inflicted upon children living in poverty housing, organizers said.

"This maze reveals many housing hardships that a lot of people can barely fathom or choose largely to ignore," Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, said on World Habitat Day as he spoke about housing issues before the United Nations.

He went on to explain that the purpose of World Habitat Day is "to open people's eyes to the scandal of poverty housing—to make it real and tangible."

Visitors to the maze were asked to sign a World Habitat Day proclamation.

"Together, we can help slam the door on poverty housing worldwide and open the door to a world in which everyone enjoys the dignity a decent home affords," Reckford said.

Before coming to Los Angeles, the exhibit traveled to New Orleans as part of a national leadership conference for Habitat for Humanity affiliates from across the United States. After Los Angeles, it heads east to Atlanta and then will be hosted by some of Habitat's 1,600 affiliates throughout the country.

The World Habitat Day 2007 proclamation is endorsed by numerous agencies, including World Vision, Church World Service, World Concern, CARE USA, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, National Peace Corps Association, International Housing Coalition and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 225,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1 million people. For more information, visit www.habitat.org. For more information on the campaign to end global poverty, visit www.slamthedoor.org.