A home of one’s own

By Steve Thomas, Emmy Award-winning TV personality and home renovation expert



  Learn more about Thomas’ involvement with Habitat.

I was the oldest of six children, and as our family grew, so did our need for housing. My father would buy a bargain fixer-upper, then spend nights and weekends redoing the place. When we outgrew the house, he’d sell it, buy a bigger one and repeat the process. He even made a bit of profit.

I used to work alongside him — well, really I just got in the way — and I learned that you could reshape an old house with your own two hands. I also learned the value of “home.” Our houses were far from fancy, but they were ours. The act of fixing up a place gave my father, and by extension me, a sense of ownership.

With Habitat, my first assignment was to shoot a number of video pieces in Kenya. We were in the village of Maai Mahiu, where hundreds of families have camped in UN tents after having been driven from their homes in 2007’s post-election violence. Habitat and volunteers from all over the world are building 350 new houses there, enough so that every family can leave their tent and once again have a home of their own.

And it transforms their lives. Kids go to school; families plant gardens to grow maize, vegetables and flowers. The village begins a new life.

In the course of shooting these video segments, the kids of the village followed us around. Sometimes an elder would shoo them away, and sometimes not. And like kids everywhere, they would giggle and laugh and try to pantomime a guy talking to a camera. We were shooting an announcement of World Habitat Day when I kept losing my train of thought. The kids behind the camera were tittering away, there were no elders to shoo them off, and we didn’t have the heart to. And here’s what happened.