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A different kind of sharing residence

There can be few homes more desperately needed than the building recently completed for the Habib family in Sakakria, Upper Egypt. Previously, the family of five brothers and one sister, plus all their extended family, were living together under the same roof in a small house consisting of only one bathroom, with one water tap for the entire family. This meant that a total of forty four people were sharing the one bathroom!

Nasser and Magda, plus their five children (four boys and one girl, ranging in ages from 22 to 7) were just one of the families that had to squeeze into this small house which was a total of 75 square meters. Though it consisted of two stories, the second floor was in a very bad state and structurally unsafe, so they did not use it. Nasser and his family had to cook, eat, sleep and shower in this small space which consisted of only two bedrooms, a kitchen and the one bathroom which they shared with thirty seven other people.

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Namal & Reda Hama and family

Nasser is a concrete day laborer and sometimes would be late to work because it took him so long to get to use the bathroom in the morning. In addition to the cramped conditions, the house had not been built on solid foundations and sometimes the whole building would shake and the family would fear it was going to collapse on top of them. There were many times when they all slept outside because it seemed the safer option.

The family heard about Habitat’s housing program through friends and neighbors who all encouraged them to apply for a loan. In conjunction with the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services (CEOSS), and the local community, Habitat has been working in the area since 2003, and has built or renovated approximately 441 houses in the town. In keeping with Habitat for Humanity’s sweat equity model, the Habib family all pitched in to do as much of the labor themselves as they could to build their new house.

Now, where once stood a small run down and terribly overcrowded house, there is a new three story apartment with two separate homes on each level. The house design was a challenge for Habitat engineers. The new building had to fit into the same space as the old house, as it was attached on either side to neighboring homes, consequently there was not a lot of room to work with. However, by cleverly utilizing all the space available, they created a more than adequate living environment for each family. Each apartment consists of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchenette. That’s five bathrooms, one per family. Nasser and Magda are more than delighted with their new house for so many reasons, including the fact that they now have their own bedroom instead of having to share with their children.

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Namal in their new bathroom

Reda and his wife Manal are also extremely pleased with their new living space. Like Nasser’s family, they had also suffered from sharing such a small space as a family. Reda described the old house as a “just pile of sand and dust, it wasn’t really a house, there were cracks everywhere.” Manal used to send the children to stay with her parents as often as she could as it just wasn’t a suitable environment for them. “We couldn’t invite guests over as there was just no room and it was embarrassing to have them in our bedroom.” For a culture so proud of their hospitality, this was a very difficult situation. Even her parents never came to visit which was very sad for her. Now however, she can invite guests whenever she wants. “I am very happy and comfortable in my new house,” she says with a lovely smile. They have three children. Korolus, (12) who is currently in the 6th grade and plans on becoming a policeman when he graduates, his sister Irini (9) wants to be a lawyer and Farha (3). All three children are benefiting from all the extra rooms they now enjoy. One of the main problems that affected all the children in the house, in addition to the bathroom issues, was that there was nowhere for them to do their homework. This was causing problems for all the children, some who had to study for exams. Now each child has the space to do as they wish, and their schooling has improved as a result.

“I am happy to see the cooperation between the family members and the good example they are setting in wanting to help their sister” states Yousry Makar, Habitat Egypt National Director. Makar also noted that in the eleven years he has been working for Habitat, this is one of the most significant interventions he has witnessed. Consequently, the family can still all be together, but in a situation that is so far improved from their old residence that it is almost beyond imagination.