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Building a house for Eunice

By Claire Mulkey

Two-year-old Eunice toddled around the worksite and loved being held

I had no idea what to expect as our bus approached the Habitat for Humanity worksite in Xai Xai, Mozambique.

 

Modest thatch houses lined the ground, and children with outstretched arms hustled alongside, whooping and cheering as we passed. Sunlight surrendered to the sand-swept air, and through the dust I could see sparse green fields of cassava plants.

 

In the province of Gaza, the HIV infection rate is as a high 19 percent. Many women are widowed, many children are orphans, and a few grandmothers in their late years are the sole providers of children.

 

The rainy season brings down houses in Xai Xai and compromises the already weakened immune systems of those with HIV. With the rain also comes an increased risk for contracting malaria. A house, with a sound foundation and a waterproof roof, is a beautiful gift.

The volunteer team celebrates the completion of a new Habitat home in Mozambique

 

The people of this humble village were big-hearted and gracious, and we worked side by side through laughter and language barriers to finish two houses. We soon learned that calimambo meant “thank you,” and we were collectively in awe of the strong women who could lift unwieldy buckets of water onto their heads and make it look like a painless task.

 

One little girl, named Eunice, became our inspiration throughout the week. She was the youngest of the family we were building a house for. At two years old, Eunice would toddle around the village and watch us work. She loved to be picked up and carried, and we all loved to hold her.

 

Many times, while immersed in a task on the house, I would turn around and be unsurprised to see Eunice right behind me with extended arms, patiently waiting to be picked up. She was the most charming distraction any of us could have asked for.

 

When I think back on my time in Mozambique, I often think of Eunice first. I wonder what Eunice is doing today? I hope Eunice is happy. Is she smiling?

 

Eunice was a gift. She was an earnest reminder of how important our work was in Xai Xai. It’s odd to think that she will never remember us. But there we all were, dirty from head to toe in cement and dust, building a house for a magnetic toddler who would never know us.

 

It felt like the most important thing in the world.

 

Clair Mulkey is a photographer currently living in San Francisco. She volunterred on a Global Village trip to Gaza province, Mozambique in August 2012.