|Cresentie Mbeko lives 20 minutes from the beach in Durban, South Africa, but has never been there. As a member of the Zulu tribe, she settled on a piece of tribal land and her passion is growing food. She sees her flourishing crops as a sign of peace and stability.
But it hasnt always been this way. In the early 1990s, during the waning days of apartheid, she and her children were forced to flee from place to place seeking safety from the gangs roaming the hills, looting and burning.
Things were so dangerous, says Mbeko. The schools were closed, and we just stayed in the bushes and the hills because the fighters were destroying everything.
She returned to her land in 1994 to find her home de-
stroyed and her beloved garden a jungle of weeds.
When I came back I was in a very poor condition. I knew I must get my three little boys inside some shelter. An older daughter was also struggling to survive with her family. We lived as best we could in the wreck. It was terrible at night because of the snakes. They would come in the broken outhouse. Mbeko was sure one of her children would be bitten and killed.
They had little to eat, and it seemed as though someone was always sick. Mbeko, however, never stopped hoping for a better future. Though she found work as a domestic servant, she was determined to return to her land and plant a new garden.
Then she heard about Habitat. She also learned of the necessary US$100 down payment for a Habitat house and wondered how she would afford it. She joined three other widows who pledged to raise their down payments collectively, allowing them all to become Habitat homeowners.
We are four old women, Mbeko says, but together we are strong, so we said first we will get the money for one house. We go to the factories and get scraps and do crochet, and when we get the money from that we get the seeds and plant beans, maize, bananas, potatoes, carrots and beet root. We sold at the market, and that way we got the money for the first house and they chose me to receive it. Then in the same way we got the money for Agnes and next for Dora and so on.
Reality struck hard when a member of their team died before they finished raising the money for her home.
When an overseas Global Village work team came to Durban in January 2000, construction began simultaneously on all three of the womens houses, concluding three months later.
Health has dramatically improved since the family moved insidethis is especially important for Mbekos daughter, who is with her now and is being treated for tuberculosis. Her grandchildren climb the trees in the yard and are nourished by food from the garden.
Now I can sit inside a house that I am not finished paying for, but I can afford the payments. I have my [garden]. I love it so much. This land is mine and the garden too. I have a letter that says its mine and nobody can take it away. This is a happy house.