The People We Served In Kenya
Written by Orville Morales, Paterson Habitat Board Member
*The links below are links to videos and pictures of the topic I am discussion to provide better context to the article.
Habitat for Humanity International is building homes throughout the world to accomplish a simple but ever challenging mission - provide safe, decent, affordable housing for all those in need! Habitat for Humanity International did not randomly choose Kenya because there is loads of poverty and decided to arrive in a white horse and shining armor to “save” people. Habitat for Humanity Kenya is an established 29 year old affiliate (even older than Paterson Habitat) that has helped more than 5,000 low income families organizing in over 100 community groups to construct simple, decent and durable houses through the provision of small incremental loans that are easy to pay off. They work in many regions, but the particular project we were working on was to house 335 families displaced by the post-election violence that occurred in Kenya after the disputed presidential election of 2007. 1,137 people were killed and 630,000 people were displaced from their homes and moved to regions where they felt safer. Frances, the village chairman was able to organize the 335 families to pool some of their money that the government gave to pay for a plot of land and divide the land equally so they can begin the process of permanently settling in this new location. They then contacted organizations such as Habitat to help them construct houses. And there we were building house number 262 for the families in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.
The house we built was for Lea and her grandchildren Jane and Joseph. Like all the other families, they have lived in small vinyl tents above a dirt floor that housed 1 adult with 2 children for years. You can see in the pictures the major improvement to their quality of life from vinyl tents to quarry stone homes. Each family will receive the same kind of home and were chosen by lottery. Many families have already received their new homes with great joy while those that wait are still happy for their neighbors. Each morning the women of the community greeted us in song praising God for our presence before we began our days work. It certainly brought a great beginning to our day!
You will see that we are not building large 2 families homes like in the States. These houses are of humble size so that Habitat Kenya and the families can afford to build the same kinds of houses for everyone at the construction cost of $2,667. This is to ensure everyone has a home with an accompanying Latrine (which was NOT present before hand). Paterson Habitat for Humanity is a long time sister affiliate with Habitat Kenya and has donated through tithing roughly $36,000 a year to Kenya. We truly feel apart of every stone that is laid in these homes.
What is most profound about this project is the people's story. We had the pleasure of speaking to the leader of security, John. John was a commander in the armed forces until they were forced to fight their way out of their village after being attacked by their own neighbors. The aforementioned issue with the elections was that of ethnic tensions gone bad. When one group lost the elections, they took the results bitterly. So anyone that was foreign or not of that tribe was pushed out of their homes.
He explained to us in tears that “few in my country acknowledge their struggles as being displaced. While foreigners have shown so much love to us.” This caused all the team members from Paterson (even the camera guy and our Habitat counterparts) to find themselves in tears while listening to his story. We were all left speechless hearing how heartbroken he was at the betrayal of his neighbors. He was sure to express that he has forgiven his attackers though he will never forget their action. John says he will continue to praise God for the many people he has been able to meet and those that have come from all over the world to help build houses for him and his people. Although John is still waiting for his home to be built, our teary eyed encounter resulted in renewed energies to finish this house and help start another one before we left. Our farewells were very emotional but rewarding! Stay tuned for more details about our experience as our trip was so rich with insight that I simply cannot write just one blog about it. Hope you enjoy!