A Focus on Families
As Habitat prepares for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project 2009, a teacher in Virginia sees ‘home’ through the eyes of a child.
The Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project: The Mekong Build 2009 is about many things. It’s about construction and the best ways to build affordable, sustainable and energy-efficient houses. It’s about the volunteers who will travel — some across oceans, some across town — and be refreshed by witnessing people from around the world together apply their energies to one task and see progress. It’s about the opportunity to spotlight desperate living conditions and encourage change. But mostly, it is about the families who will live in the houses and, over time, make them into homes.
Throughout last spring, Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China completed test builds, invited dignitaries, booked hotels and picked out home sites to prepare for the event. As they worked, families in each location also prepared, working and dreaming of a week in November during which they will build a house, and a home, with you.
This year’s Habitat World essay contest winner zeroed in on the connection between home and family. Kelli Akremi, a fourth-grade teacher in Virginia whose prize is a trip to CWP 2009, allowed an encounter with a student to prompt a re-evaluation of what home really means — and Habitat’s role in creating that home — in her essay.
The Winning Essay
“I couldn’t do my homework last night. It got dark too fast.”
Sighing softly to myself, I turned to face Edwin. In my many years of teaching fourth grade, I’ve heard a countless number of excuses as to why homework is missing or incomplete. I just did not expect to hear this from Edwin, a bright, gifted fourth grader.
“Why didn’t you just turn on a light?” I asked.
“I couldn’t,” Edwin whispered, his voice nearly inaudible as he fought back tears. “The company turned off the electricity last week.”
As the rest of the class completed a reading assignment, I listened to Edwin’s heartbreaking story. Both of his parents worked long hours at their jobs, but they couldn’t afford to buy a house and barely managed to pay the rent on their townhouse each month. Faced with a mounting pile of bills in the mailbox, Edwin’s parents were recently forced to make difficult choices. Shelter or electricity? Fix the broken lock on the front door or buy school supplies for the children? Purchase food or gasoline for the car? Unlike the math tests I administer, there are no correct answers to such questions. Choices had to be made, though. Ultimately Edwin’s family had started to eat cold dinners by candlelight and, for safety, to sleep crammed together in the one tiny bedroom that had a lock on the door.
It was my turn to fight back tears.
“It’s OK,” comforted Edwin. “We have a place to sleep and my parents love me. I’m really sorry that I didn’t do my homework, though.”
Without realizing it, Edwin gave me a homework assignment of my own to work on that night. What is a “home”? In his young eyes, a home is a place to sleep and a place where children feel the comfort of their parents’ love for them. In my eyes, a home is a place with so much more. Doors with locks to provide feelings of safety and security. Piping hot meals eaten in well-lit rooms. Tables covered with piles of artwork (and devoid of overwhelming mortgage notices). Family areas filled with laughter and memories next to nooks for individual times of solitude. Children at desks completing homework under the glow of a bright lamp.
I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity because of students like Edwin. No child should have to worry about doing homework in the dark. All children deserve a place to learn and discover their potential. And this begins with a decent home, I learned from my young student Edwin.
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