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Painting walls, breaking barriers

For a few weeks at the end of May and the start of June, the Habitat staff in Europe and Central Asia abandons computers, e-mails, papers and reports for a set of construction tools. Rain or shine, the entire office goes for a day and a half on a team build to see Habitat’s mission of fighting poverty housing in action. Previous builds included work in Poland and Hungary. This year, E/CA went to southern Slovakia to work alongside Roma families.


Habitat E/CA staff worked alongside Roma families in Hodejov, Slovakia.



The walls need to be sanded first, before they can be painted.

The Roma are the most disadvantaged group in many Central and Eastern European countries. They experience poverty that for many is unimaginable in modern Europe. At the same time, they have to break through social isolation and stigma. They often live in ghettolike communities on the outskirts of towns and villages, and many have no access to social services and lack finances to improve their housing situation. Usually, extended families live under one roof, and children share a bed with siblings and parents.

The aim of the E/CA build was to offer a helping hand to the low-income Roma families in Hodejov and, at the same time, try to break some of the existing barriers. By painting and sanding walls alongside members of the Roma community, we could at least learn to understand them.

The task for the day was to put a coat of paint on the inner walls of eight apartments and level the ground around the building. Everyone was divided into four groups, and each group worked with some of the future homeowners, along with Roma men on social contracts—those offered short-term employment on construction sites. At first, the men were shy and did not dare enter a room, choosing to stay outside and dig ground in front of the house. When it started raining, some ventured inside. By the end of the day, we made friends. The painting was going faster.

As we continued to work together, many started singing and talking using a mix of Slovak, Hungarian and German and spicing it up with occasional English words.

Leaving our offices for a day or two always has a strong impact on the team. It connects people with the real work of Habitat and offers chances to make a small contribution to the change in the world.

What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:

• Visit our donations page to support projects in Slovakia.
• Go to country profile pages to learn about other programs in this country.

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