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Glimpses of Life -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Glimpses of Life

Families in Tajikistan build on the foundation of simple, decent housing
By Shala Carlson.


In Khujand, Tursunkul Hoshimov looks out over the small plot of land behind his Habitat house where his family grows fruits and vegetables. Photos by Steffan Hacker.

Tursunkul Hoshimov waited nearly half his life for a house of his own.

He says it now with a smile so deep it fills even his eyes, but he remembers almost losing hope. Working long days as a police officer in the city of Khujand, coming home to a crowded two-room apartment that housed eight members of his family. He applied to all of the appropriate government agencies to request a plot of land so he could build a house, but never made it any further than the purgatory of a crowded list of local names representing similar appeals.

He waited for 30 years. Hope was hard, he says, but somehow he kept a small bit of belief alive.

As he tells his story, Tursunkul serves homemade cherry juice, pouring the sweet burgundy beverage from a wide-mouthed jar into frosted golden glasses on a low table. His belief, he says, turned into the miracle of the house he now sits in. Overflowing plates of fruits and nuts and small dishes of cookies and brightly wrapped candies clink together as room is made for more — always more, in the customary warm welcome that awaits guests and visitors to the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.

From time to time, Tursunkul’s quietly basso laugh punctuates the excited chatter of children peeking into the room where their grandfather sits. Doors open and close as little ones venture out to the yard behind the house, a bare plot in today’s winter sun but a space that will, in spring, bear apples, pomegranates, apricots, potatoes and onions. For holidays and special celebrations, his extended family will come to visit the house he and his son Qahramon helped build, sleeping outside under the stars when the weather is warm. “All of this,” the 67-year-old says, “is thanks to Habitat.”

Since 1999, Habitat for Humanity Tajikistan has partnered with families throughout the formerly Soviet nation. In so much of the mountainous country, life can be as difficult as the Tajik culture is colorful. In rural areas, work can be hard to find; in the cities, it’s land that can be elusive. But families everywhere hunger for a chance to make a change.

In Tajikistan, that change takes different forms — new construction or the completion of half-finished houses, renovation or disaster-mitigating reinforcement of existing houses and apartments, the development of vocational and construction skills through building and training centers, the provision of innovative, low-cost water filters.

Some families — like Tursunkul Hoshimov’s — have spent years in their Habitat houses, grown in to them as they cooked and studied and met challenges and made plans. Others — more all the time — are just starting down that road of promise and potential.

Habitat’s work begins anew each morning. And so do the everyday lives of Habitat Tajikistan’s partner families.

 


Habitat Building and Training Center graduate Nigina Masharipova runs her own tailoring shop.

   


In his small shop on the outskirts of the village of Shaydon, master carpenter Munin Yuldoshev is hard at work. This morning he’s making window frames, methodically planing the wood with the help of his young assistant, Suhrob. The two work quietly, only the sound of their tools and the shavings from their work filling the air.

When he was a young boy, Munin remembers going to work with his father and watching him make things. From his father and grandfather, he says, he learned all of the practices of being a carpenter, but he knew he needed to understand the theory behind them. And if he ever wanted to own this shop of his, he needed official certification.

Because employment and skills training can be as scarce in Shaydon as good housing, Habitat Tajikistan — with support from Habitat Canada and in partnership with the district’s Department of Education — has opened a building and training center. The facility offers construction-related and vocational training; its students generate materials that are sold to the public at affordable prices or are used in ongoing Habitat house construction and renovation projects. Graduates like Munin are instantly positioned to find work — or to open their own businesses. One student at a time, Habitat is creating skill sets, the financial stability required for better housing and a hope that comes with finding the right path.

The road that runs past Munin’s carpentry shop continues into Shaydon and turns into a tree-lined way named Somoniyon Street. Inside the open door of her storefront, Habitat training center graduate Nigina Masharipova sits behind a gently swaying sewing table. Gingerly stretching the flowered material of a Tajik national dress, she slowly pushes down the pedal of her sewing machine with her shoe, which is adorned by a tiny black bow.

The youngest child in her family, Nigina adds her income to that of her parents. She’s doing well enough to consider expanding her offerings soon. A shy 19-year-old, she’s wanted to be a tailor since she was a child, she says, dreaming of making beautiful dresses. She remembers the first one she ever sold and how she immediately used the money to buy more thread. “For me,” she shares, “to find a job is to find your way in life.”

 


The Zohidov family has lived in their Habitat apartment in Khujand for five years.

   


With everything that has changed for the Zohidov family in the past five years, some things are still the same.

Omina still resists sitting down to chat until she’s sent out all of the prepared plates from the kitchen, until she’s sure that everything is just right. Daughters Manizha and Farzona still help her, quietly hovering at the edges of the conversation. And Farukh still firmly presses his fingertips together when he’s making a point he especially wants to emphasize.

His point today is all that their Habitat house has meant to his family. The Zohidovs live in a renovated apartment building at Khujand State University, part of a community of 52 Habitat families. In the five years since they first moved in, the family has been able to save, acquiring their first car and the washing machine Omina has always wanted. Their son has entered university. They have more space and a real kitchen. None of this would have happened, Farukh says, without Habitat’s help.

But as much as he loves all of these improvements and the progress they represent for his family, there are intangibles that Farukh loves just as much. His friendships with his neighbors, “brothers,” he calls them. The peace of mind he feels each day when he gets home from work. The pride in something he has helped create.

Sometimes, on his own, Farukh makes his way up to the roof of the Habitat building. From there, he says, “you can see the city like it was in the palm of your hand.”

 


Two-year-old Najot Qobilov is a frequent and lively visitor at his grandmother’s Habitat house.

   


Bundled up against the newly fallen snow, 2-year-old Najot Qobilov totters back and forth on the sturdy porch of his grandmother’s newly completed Habitat house. As he entertains everyone within range of his delighted squeals, the pompom of his knit cap bounces like a ball. He is clearly a source of unending joy for Unziyamoh Abulhaeva, who comes around the corner to watch his antics.

Unziyamoh has had to search for joy, but with Habitat’s help, the foundation of her home is almost finally as strong as her determination to improve her living conditions. For 20 years, she lived in a house of increasing instability. The rocky land under her home was loose and shifting; earthquake tremors had cracked the walls and roof. She was, she says, afraid it would collapse at any time.

While her husband would send home what money he could from his job in Russia — a common occurrence among residents of the Asht region — Unziyamoh knew that making a change was up to her. And so she began building a new house just up the hill, with the help of her son Foteh and their relatives. Unable to afford all of the materials required for its completion, she applied to Habitat for financial assistance after hearing about it at the school where she teaches, and now the house is almost finished. “It will be a relief for me,” she says, her voice a sigh of contentment.

Her friends and neighbors, she adds with pride, have a hard time believing that she’s done so much of this by herself. By herself, she says, but not alone. “Always when I prayed,” she says, “I would say, ‘Oh, God, let me meet such people as can help me.’ As a result, He sent me Habitat. And I am so grateful.”

 


The Zoidov family supplements its income by raising chickens behind their Habitat house.

   


Eight-year-old Muhammadjon Zoidov stands in the courtyard of the Habitat house in which he’s growing up. You can see echoes of his father and his older brothers in the way he determinedly puts his hands on his hips, legs stretched wide in a confident stance.

One of the families’ hens has escaped the coop, and Muhammadjon is plotting how to catch her. Catch her he does, quickly returning her to the rest of the brood, which numbers about 50 in all. He turns to lift the top of a wooden bin, reaches inside and proffers an egg with a smile. The family supplements their income by selling these eggs to neighbors. They also have room to grow grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers and more.

Muhammadjon’s parents, Rajabboy and Farogat, helped build their Habitat house in 2003. The growing family had lived with Rajabboy’s parents and his brother in a small house until Farogat saw a Habitat flier at the hospital where she works as a cook.

“We impatiently waited to move into our new house,” Farogat says. “Most of all, I waited for privacy, to have our own space. And also I dreamed to have land, this small farm.” Muhammadjon walks toward the gate, where friends from this neighborhood of Habitat houses are waiting. He has dreams, too. He loves math, he says, and wants to be a pilot, his hand drifting up toward the sky.

 


In Shaydon, Gulandom Qarobeova enjoys the sunlight that streams through the windows of her newly completed Habitat house.

   
 

   


At every turn, there are these moments.

A dark-haired girl in a smart red coat celebrates a birthday in the village of Kumsangir. She smiles as the wind ruffles the fur trim around her neck, turning quickly as she plays hide-and-seek with her sister. In a nearby outbuilding, Habitat staffers help her mother install a locally made water filter, an affordable solution to the family’s lack of regular access to clean water.

In Shaydon, a mother sits in her family’s Habitat house. Sunlight streams through the bigger windows that she loves so much, illuminating all of the additional space that her two children now enjoy. A math teacher for 17 years, she sees the difference that decent living conditions can make in the life of a student. She speaks proudly of her daughter’s plans to study Russian literature at university.

In Khujand, a philosophy teacher stands at the front of a chilly classroom, warmed only by his enthusiasm and the rapt attention of his students. He greeted the day with his wife and children in a Habitat apartment. He was encouraged to apply by the dean of his school, an older man who likes to dole out dried apricots from his garden. There are parallels, the dean tells us, between their calling and the work of building affordable housing: Our business is about humanity. Yours is for humanity.

As if to prove his point, a family of five welcomes a group of strangers from halfway around the world. The family shares a feast with their guests as they share their plans to improve the Habitat home they helped build. Generous and funny, they invite their visitors to stay longer, eat more, come back soon. Although this is their first and perhaps only meeting, in their eyes they are already all members of the same family. A family — international in scope, limitless in number — that goes by the name of Habitat.