The Mission Vision for Habitat for Humanity is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”
On Friday, I had the chance to help build a decent place to live with a wonderful group of women and the future homeowner of a Women Build Habitat for Humanity house in Freeport, Maine.
What I learned on Friday is that I was helping to build much more than a home.
Nyapeni left Sudan in the late 1990s when her country was in war. After spending some time in Cairo, Egypt, she eventually made her way to Portland, Maine. She told us her story as we took our lunch break on the construction site that was to be her future home.
Nyapeni told us of her arranged marriage and how her husband didn’t want her to be educated. She told us how she told her husband she was able to “fly free” in America and how they later divorced. She told us about her four children, two of whom are already successful young men working toward a bright future.
Nyapeni educated herself in order to provide for her family, and she continues to do so. She works for the Portland public school system as a translator and hopes to become a social worker so she can help more people from her community.
She said she is a strict mother and does her best to make sure her kids don’t get mixed up in the wrong crowd. The problem, she told us, is that her younger children are more Americanized and tougher to keep tabs of, particularly in the rougher neighborhood she is currently living in.
By the way, if you think becoming the recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house is easy (or free), you’re wrong. The process actually takes several months. Applicants have to pay a fee, share financial information and go through an extensive interview process in order to be approved. I worked alongside a few of the volunteer committee members who screen applicants for Habitat for Humanity Greater Portland. They are there to make sure that future homeowners will be forever homeowners.
And Habitat homeowners also have to put in 250 hours of volunteer time on their home or other Habitat homes.
Nyapeni is at her future home’s construction site every single Friday. I’m thankful that I was on her team for the day because she showed me a thing or two about hammering long nails into boards. (You’d think this would be an easy task. I learned it was much harder than expected.)
She was an inspiration to me on Friday, as were all the women building that day.
The whole point of the Women Build program is to include women in the building process so that they can learn construction skills on a more inclusive construction site. Amy Dowler, the director of operations for Habitat for Humanity Greater Portland, shared with me that most of the volunteers for Habitat for Humanity are women, so the program makes sense.
The only man at the site on Friday was Chad, the amazingly patient construction manager for the project.
At one point, Chad told us we were going to pick up an 800 pound structure and rest it on the top of the house. We laughed. And then we hoisted that sucker up.
I could have blogged about my lack of ability to hammer a nail into a board or the difficulty of using a skil saw as a left-handed person or the pain I was in the next day from all my manual labor.
But that’s not what the day was all about.
I got to help build Nyapeni’s house.
And every time I drive by it, I can point and tell my kids “Mommy helped build that house for a really great family.”