The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | August/September 2001
Hard Work Yields More Than Houses
Terre Haute, Indiana
When Randy Berg was approved for a Habitat house, the affiliate in Wabash Valley, Ind., tried to be creative in finding ways that he could complete his sweat equity. Berg, 39, who has been blind since a motorcycle accident in 1986, was a computer whiz. Perhaps he could help in the office. Berg said, No, thank you. He wanted to build his house. The construction manager knew I was blind and found things I could do, Berg says. I was sighted (for) 26 years; I know what a ladder looks like and what a roof looks like. Im not scared. ... To be a part of building my home is awesome. I still pinch myself. In addition to the satisfaction of sweat equity, Berg enjoys showing people what is possible if you put your mind to it. I wish I could see peoples faces to see how they react to me sometimes, he says. I didnt put roofing down, but I helped with the shop vac and swept out the cabinets. There was a lot I did that people didnt think a blind man could do.
Bergs Habitat house includes special accommodations for his leader dog.
Habitats Tampa, Fla., affiliate offered to adjust sweat equity requirements for Margaret McCarthan, who is 70 years old, has several debilitating medical conditions and cares for a son who was born with cerebral palsy. McCarthan would not hear of it. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and to anyone else who said they cant do it, she says. A lot of younger people said: I cant do it. My back hurts; my head hurts. I cant get out in the sun. If I can do it and theres nothing wrong with you, you can do it. When construction work caused severe swelling in her feet and legs, McCarthan organized the supply shed on the Habitat job site. I can shut my eyes and tell you what kind of nail you have, and what you use it for, she says. I was very proud to do my sweat equity. McCarthan not only finished her sweat equity, she donated extra hours to other families. With Gods help and the help of Habitat, I made itand had some left over to help someone else, she says.
McCarthan and her 36-year-old son, Warren, moved into their Habitat house in September 2000.
Winters in Toronto, Ontario, can be bitterly cold. Thats why staff members and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity Metropolitan Toronto were so eager to help the Dano family from Ethiopia partner on a Habitat house. The sooner the family finished the house, the sooner Dano could stop sleeping overnight in his car in the affiliates parking lot in 10-degree weather. Dano, his wife, and their three children, ages 6 and younger, were sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Dano would work the overnight shift and then sleep in our parking lot until 8 a.m. to do his sweat equity, says Neil Hetherington, executive director of HFH Toronto. He did this all throughout the winter. The guy was working crazy hours to make sure they could get the house.
Dano continues to volunteer, doing salvage work and helping in the ReStore, the affiliates used construction-materials store.
Angel Hernndezs passion for sweat equity started the day he stopped by a job site and talked to Ann Stoddart, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport, Conn. She put the light in my eyes to show me this could happen to us, says Hernndez. Right at the moment, I decided to start doing my hours. I spent the whole day there; I didnt want to stop. Hernndez and his wife, Milagros, hold the affiliates record for completing sweat equity in the shortest amount of time2 1/2 months. Angel Hernndez worked nearly every day, even though he worked a full-time graveyard shift, plus a second part-time job. That was a little hectic, he says. Sleepthat was the troublesome part. When he sees other families struggle to complete their sweat-equity hours, he reminds them of what they are truly building. From the moment you wake up in the morning, think about how your kids will feel when you get your house, Hernndez tells them. Deep inside, its a better feeling; its a clean feeling that you get.
Hernndezs house was sponsored by actor Paul Newman, who also volunteered on the Habitat build.
Building sweat equity is a team effort for Habitat in Latin America and the Caribbean, where family partners are selected in groups and work together to complete all of the houses as a team. Juliana Davids community of Tilapn, Mexico, included 20 potential family partners. Their families collected rocks for the foundations and sand to mix with the cement. And (they) started a small store to raise money to pay for a pickup truck to deliver them to every house of every applicant, says Flix Lozno of HFH Mexico. They worked on this for six months before they were selected. David, 42, and her daughter, Claudia, moved into their house on Jan. 1, 1997. Juliana David says that getting a Habitat house has changed her life. Im a very different person than I used to be, she says. I was very rebellious; I am more spiritual now. Though she has long since finished her sweat equity, David still helps other families build their houses. Because she has a house, David says, she has the moral responsibility to help all of those in need.
David now serves on Mexicos national board of directors for Habitat, and she also is involved in community development, helping other women.
Santa Cruz Michapa, El Salvador
Forced from his home by the civil war in El Salvador, Jorge Alberto Lpez had the desire to help others. The idea that anyone would help him in return was life-changing. At first I didnt believe in Habitats philosophy of sweat equity, says Lpez. It is difficult to believe that I can help another, and then that person will help me. I never heard of thatits incredible. When Lpez first heard about Habitat, he was living in a house with a dirt floor. Instead of asking for a decent house of his own, he donated his time to help another family. Lpez then continued volunteering for three years, motivating families to believe in Habitat and serving as a mason on several projects. Finally, Habitat began building in his community of Santa Cruz Michapa. Lpez, his wife and their four children built their Habitat house with the help of six other families. Moving into their Habitat house in 2000, Lpez says, has completely changed the life of his family. The children are more relaxed, and the family is more content, he says. Now there are 28 Habitat houses in Lpezs community. When asked how many he has personally been involved in, Lpez sheepishly replies, All 28.
Lpez is a member of the regional committee for Habitat for Humanity Cuscatlan and an elected official in his municipality.
Belize City, Belize
Yvonne Bowen first heard of Habitat for Humanity in August 2000. A week after Hurricane Keith tore the roof off of her house, she got word that her application had been approved. Bowen began building sweat equity with Habitat in November 2000. It is hard work, but it is a lot of fun. And you learn as you go along, says Bowen, 39. I didnt know anything about mixing cement, laying block, tying steel or cavity filling, but now I know about all this. The skills that Bowen gained in sweat equity, she says, do not begin to compare to the joy that she has found in learning that other people cared enough about her family to help build their three-bedroom Habitat house. The greatest of all is meeting a lot of volunteers from here and abroad, and to know that you have a lot of people who are still willing to lend a helping hand, says Bowen.
Bowens Habitat house was scheduled for completion in June 2001.
Santa Cruz, Bolivia
What might have been a disaster for Lorenzo Torrez became a blessing for this Habitat partner, who earned a new livelihood as well as a Habitat house through his sweat-equity efforts. Torrez, who took holidays from work during every day of his Habitat house construction in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, lost his job. To support his family, Torrez opened a small store in his new Habitat house. With the savings from his store, Torrez has been able to buy a used car and to earn a living as a taxi driver. While working off sweat equity on his house, Torrez also became a skilled mason. When I went home to my rented house, I didnt say hello to anyone. Everyone kept to themselves and was suspicious of everyone else, says Torrez. Now I say hello to everyone. We watch out for one another and get together for birthday parties, graduations and Christmas. I love living here and feeling that I belong to a community.
Torrez now is president of the board of Santa Cruz HFH, and was asked to serve on Bolivias national Habitat board.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
My life changed the day I stepped on that building site, says Ted Denny. Indeed, that day signaled a new beginning for the Denny family. At the time, Ted and his wife, Jackie, were separated and had barely spoken for eight months. But when Jackie was accepted as a Habitat homeowner, it was impossible for her to care for her children, work and complete her sweat equity. Jackie called Ted to ask for his help. A serious car accident years earlier had left Ted partially paralyzed. Fortunately, Ted was able to work the hours, communication with his wife increased, and soon they reconciled. Yes, it brought my wife and I back together, he says. Sweat equity is not a chore, its helping build a home for your family.
In helping to build several Habitat houses, Ted Denny worked 1,600 hours, often alongside American Global Village work teams. The fact that they paid to come to Belfast to work blew my mind, he says. Their generosity strengthened my belief in God. Were never alone in this house. The memories of all the people who built it are always with us.
When it comes to his experience working sweat equity on his familys Habitat house, Vasile Herghelegius own words tell it best: It is a meaningful, soul-to-soul experience because I did help and I was helped. In theory, I knew agape love, but, in practice, I mostly learned it with Habitat. It meant that when I was helped, I felt in a family. The best I felt was when I could offer 1,000 hours of sweat equity to the Kovacs family. The pleasure is when you give, not when you receive.
In all, 30-year-old Vasile Herghelegiu worked more than 2,500 sweat-equity hours. He and his family moved into their Habitat house in 1999.
Like so many Romanian families, the Clintoc family of four had lived for years in a small one-room apartment in factory-owned housing. They shared a toilet and shower facilities with 20 other families on the same floor of their building. Though their need for better housing was great, the prospect of working sweat equity was daunting. Ioan Clintoc, 35, already worked 12-hour days at the factory. I had to do 1,250 hours and it took me almost six months to do it, he says. I had to divide my time between my job at the factory, the sweat-equity hours and my family.
Along with learning technical skills, Clintoc also credits working his sweat equity with changing his mentality. I have learned to help other people, he says.
Working sweat-equity hours on his new Habitat house is something to look forward to for 37-year-old Gheorghe Apetrei. Little wonder, after the housing difficulties his family faced, including an unexpected eviction when his wife, Natalia, now 36, was eight-months pregnant. When they couldnt get even temporary government housing, Gheorghe went on a hunger strike at the mayors office. They finally moved into a small room with no kitchen or toilet. I couldnt wait until the start of working on the Habitat site, says Gheorghe. Ive never thought of giving up, and Ill never think of that. Habitat for Humanity is the solution and blessing of my and my familys life.
As he completes his sweat-equity hours, Apetrei finds satisfaction in the accomplishment. Its something extraordinary, he says.
When Habitat Cluj began construction on its first four houses, Antoniu and Simona Manyo were not among those initial Habitat families. Despite their disappointment in not being chosen, the Manyos decided to volunteer with Habitat anyway. Later, when one of the first four families had to drop out, the Manyos were selected to take their place. In the year since, the young couple has worked more than 1,700 sweat-equity hours and is still working. It was worth it, because this way we could learn and feel what it really means to build a house, says Antoniu. We have new friends and a dream that came true: to have our own house.
The Manyos gained more than a house while working the sweat equity. Our neighbors are now our best friends, he says.
Since 1996, Avetiq Torosyan and his family of five lived in one room in an unfinished house in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. Like many others here, Torosyan was unable to complete the structure on his own, due to economic hardship. Earlier this year, when he learned Habitat would help him complete the house, he took a one-month leave of absence from his work as an electrician and driver in order to work full time on his house. Driven to complete the house as soon as possible for his family, Torosyan dedicated himself to working 20 hours a day. On Saturdays, local volunteers joined in and his family moved into their new house in July.
Torosyan, 43, couldnt believe it when he learned he would be a Habitat homeowner. A skilled craftsman and hard worker, he did most of the work on his house himself, but says his best helper is his 14-year-old son, Hovik.
In Kyrgyz culture, there is a tradition called ashar, which refers to the whole family or clan working together to set up camp as members herd their sheep around the mountains. In a similar vein, Habitat families often recruit their entire extended family to help build their houses. Sometimes, dedication to hard work and motivation for decent shelter can be so strong that homeowner families may take a leave of absence from their jobs to work full time on their houses. Such is the case with Bekter and Ryskul Usunbaeve, who live with their young son in a tiny one-room apartment. Why are they working so hard? I want to have a big family, says Bekter. But first, I need a good home for them to live in.
Bekter and Ryskul Usunbaeve are doctors, but because of rising inflation and budget cutbacks at their state-sponsored hospital, if they are paid at all, their meager income may come in the form of bags of surplus flour or potatoes.
For homeowner Paul Sekone, building his Habitat house required a definite sacrifice of time and energy. Each weekday for three months, he woke up before sunrise to mix four bags of cement with sand to make bricks before heading off to work. After work, he repeated the process with another four bags. On the weekends, Sekone would work on his house all day. I never thought about quitting, he says. In September 2000, Sekone moved into his house and says all the hard work was worth it. Sweat equity means I am demonstrating Gods love through my work with Habitat, he says. I am not just paying someone to build my house for me. I am actually working hand in hand with that person to build myself a better home, a better life. At the end of the day, I am proud that I had a hand in the process.
Sekone continues to volunteer with his Habitat affiliate, reaching out to his community as well as trying to introduce Habitat to other communities.
At first, Oliver Yubya was skeptical about Habitats sweat-equity policy; he was not sure Habitat would follow through on its promises even if he completed his sweat-equity work. But he decided to become a partner, and after two months of working on his Habitat house by making bricks, collecting sand and water for cement, and laying bricks from the foundation to the roof, he changed his mind about sweat equity. Yubya and his family have lived in their Habitat house since February 2001, and they are more comfortable now than when they lived in a house with mud walls, wooden poles and a thatched roof. Now, I feel better about myself, and my familys living conditions have been improved, he says.
Habitat houses in Zambia are constructed of concrete blocks, stone foundations and tile roofs.
Sam Munaku and Caroline Birungi fulfilled their sweat-equity responsibilities within the framework of their culture. As the primary wage earner, Munaku focused his attention on farming their land while Birungi completed the 240 required hours of sweat equity by carrying bricks, mixing mortar, and working in the affiliate office, guest house and store. Initially, Birungi thought sweat equity was an exploitative requirement, since homeowners also must pay a mortgage. After the work was done, however, she realized completing sweat equity was a worthwhile experience. It was worth it in many ways, Birungi says. I can now supervise house construction.
Birungi balanced her sweat equity with early morning chores by working on her Habitat house in the afternoon.
One of the challenges Judith Kalaiwa encountered in completing her sweat equity was balancing the extra work with her everyday tasks. Kalaiwas days are usually busy with feeding livestock, preparing meals for the family, and finishing chores on the farm, where she lives with her husband, Richard Kabulu, and their family. However, the challenges also provided opportunities to learn new skills. I learned the importance of working together, which made the work of building houses easier, Kalaiwa says. I earlier thought I could do things alone but learned that assisting one another was the way out." Although the work involved in building the housedigging foundations, transporting timber, mixing cementwas hard, helping other people get out of indecent housing motivated her to put in more than the required hours of sweat equity, she says.
Kalaiwa, a homeowner since 1998, still attends homeowner meetings and fund-raising activities.
Wolaita Soddo, Ethiopia
At the beginning it was hard and tiresome, but later it became interesting, says Habitat homeowner Ato Alemayehu of his sweat-equity experience. He also says he feels that the skills he learned in building his Habitat house could enable him to make a living if he ever needed to change jobs. In addition to meeting new people and contributing to the communitys development, I got very good experience from working in the house-dedication committee, Alemayehu says. Homeowners often are able to enlist the support of family members in completing their sweat-equity tasks, adding to the sense of partnership within the community. Friends and relatives show their love by participating in the work, Alemayehu says.
Alemayehus house is a 30-square-meter, three-room, stabilized-soil block house with a pit latrine.
Achieving Habitat homeownership was a family effort for Paulraj, his wife, Janaki, and their six children. The family saved and lived frugally to buy land from the government, and some of the children worked after school and on holidays to help out. The children, whose ages ranged from 6 to 18 years old, had more opportunities to help when the family was selected for a Habitat house. The construction site was difficult to access by road, and water had to be fetched from a public well about one kilometer from the site. The children, with the help of neighbors, managed the water supply, carried building materials, ran errands and kept the workers supplied with tea. Paulraj and his wife mixed mortar, dug trenches and carried bricks and boulders.
Six local Habitat homeowners helped the family build their house. They knew what it is to have ones own house, Paulraj says.
In Mongolia, as in other parts of the world, the phrase sweat equity is translated as mutual help or cooperation. Or, as homeowner Erdenetsogt says, It is making a difference in someones life where there is needcooperating together for everyones benefit. This spirit of cooperation stood out to Erdenetsogt and his wife, Tsendayush, as relatives and volunteers from the area as well as other countries came together to build. It was not a big sacrifice because other people shared in the regular work, Erdenetsogt says.
Erdenetsogt, his wife and their three daughters live in a 42-square-meter house with wood floors, wood walls and a brick exterior.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Homeowner Puwanit Puntana lists several positive aspects of his sweat-equity experience: sweat equity helps create new relationships between homeowners, lowers the cost of the overall mortgages, teaches construction skills and increases the number of local volunteers as homeowners continue to help others even after moving into their houses. During the building, two Global Village teams helped with the construction of his house. He says working with the team members, who gave both funds and physical labor even though they were strangers to his family, was one of the highlights.
After hearing about the experiences that Puntanas wife, Wanna, enjoyed, several of her coworkers have applied for Habitat houses as well.
Las Pias, Philippines
After 17 years of living in a house made of patches of plywood on land he didnt own, Molito Tatad at last came home to a solid Habitat house last year. But first, he helped nearly all of his neighbors build their Habitat houses before building his own. A shy, quiet man, Tatad was elected by his soon-to-be neighbors as president of the new communitys homeowners association. For Tatad, a construction worker by trade, helping others build their houses before his meant setting an example and uniting the new community. I wanted the members of the association to first get their houses before I did, says Tatad. I want to lead by example. And now my children know what it takesworking hard, and then, finally, we own our house.
Tatad believes Habitats program gave people hope. Even if were poor, now we have a chance to live a decent life and have a decent house, he says.
Gisborne, New Zealand
When the Paul family was selected for their Habitat house, it was a burned-out shell. However, after 1,500 hours of sweat equityonly 500 of which were requiredit has become their home. After the affiliate worked to raise funds for the renovation, John Paul and his wife, Mara, helped complete the roof, brace the ceiling and walls, and fit windows, among other tasks needed to repair the damaged building. Theres a sense of achievement, and I was motivated to work every day, he says.
We felt good when we moved in, and we still feel very proud to have a Habitat house, he says.
U.S./Canada stories reported/written by: Pat Curry
Latin America/Caribbean stories reported/written by: Pat Curry, Debbie Falk, Brad Henderson, Flix Lozno, Maria Palumbo
Asia/Pacific stories reported/written by: Rebekah Graydon, Denise Hey, Milana McLead, Diane Patrick, Marlow Ramsey, Boots Shaffer, John Sheeran
Europe/CIS stories reported/written by: Charlie Barnes, Adrian Ciorna, Laura Ferent, Milana McLead, Claire Moss, Gohar Palyan, Delia Popa, Zamfir Todor
Africa/Middle East stories reported/written by: Ato Geremew Assefa, Ben Dewberry, Rebekah Graydon, Shadrack Mutembei, Samantha Schroeder, Hanna Tilahun, Nayiga Victoria
Reprinted from Habitat World Magazine, August/September 2001.
This article may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
©2001 Habitat for Humanity International
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