The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | June 2007
Rising From Ruins (continued)
The Zohidov family was one of the first to move in. Omina Zohidov is a professor of Tajik literature at KSU. Her husband, Farukh, is a soft-spoken immigration lawyer who works for a community-based organization. As Farukh pours steaming tea into delicate china bowls, Omina transfers fruits, nuts and bread to plates in the kitchen. Twelve-year-old Manizha and 9-year-old Farzona play in their bedroom; the sisters' lively chatter drifts across the hallway, periodically making their father smile.
Farukh and Omina offer up one-word descriptions of the one-room apartment they occupied when they first heard about the Habitat-KSU partnership. "Small," says Farukh. "Cold," Omina adds. In order to have room for everyone to sleep, the Zohidovs moved the kitchen out on to the balcony of their old apartment. A makeshift heating system, common in Khujand where many families have little access to heating, and the precarious placement of the balcony kitchen made the apartment unsafe, says Farukh.
"There was no place where we could go that would improve our housing conditions," he says. "Because of our financial situation, we could not afford to buy another apartment."
Then, the Zohidovs heard about Habitat. "I saw that this is our right project," says Farukh. "I came to my parents, and we gathered together and made a decision. And then we came to Habitat."
Now, Farukh says, his family has a future. "If we had stayed in that one-room apartment, we wouldn't have had any possibilities. My family is growing up. Before, we stayed in one room together. Somehow, now, even when [Omina and I] are in one room and the girls are in another, we are more together as a family."
Helping Many Families at Once
The conditions in which the Zohidov family lived before their Habitat home are found all across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. On a chilly Thursday afternoon in Kyrgyzstan, children gather on the front steps of a decaying dormitory-style apartment building in the capital city of Bishkek. Standing in the building's muddy front lot, Sher Ibraev hunches his shoulders against the cold as he looks up at the place he's lived for the past eight years.
Those years make Ibraev, a truck driver by trade, a relative newcomer. Many of his neighbors have lived here since the building, known as Airena, was built in 1983, he says. Airena was originally constructed by the government as housing for workers in a nearby bread factory. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the state, which had maintained the dormitory's physical plant, privatized the building. The factory closed soon after.
Families now suddenly owned the rooms they lived in and were unable to afford upkeep and repairs on the building; the average income of families living in the building today is around $80 a month, and materials and labor can be expensive and hard to acquire. As time passed, problems began to grow. The soft, tar-paper roof leaks, damaging the ceilings and walls of the top two floors and leaving standing water in the hallways. Exposed wiring protrudes from worn-out fuse boxes. The glass panes in most of the windows at the end of each hallway broke long ago.
Once, Ibraev recalls, Airena was among the very best places to live in the district. Now, he says, "it's like a different world. Outside, you laugh and joke. Up on the fifth floor, you become silent." The deterioration is slowly working its way down through the rest of the building.
The need quickly became obvious to Emil Shaimbetov, who served as Habitat Kyrgyzstan's construction manager before becoming executive director. "I was thinking that we would simply continue the same kind of construction," says Shaimbetov. "That we would be only building houses for those who need them. But if a person has a roof that is leaking, has mold in his walls, dampness and unsanitary conditions, it's not sounding like he has a house, is it? By eliminating these problems, we can help a large amount of families at once."
Over a 10-month period, Habitat Kyrgyzstan developed a partnership model with the 138 families living in Airena, familiarizing residents with Habitat, explaining what the partnership would require, and training them in simple construction and repair tasks. The renovation program was developed in several stages; families signed contracts, agreeing to repay their $150 share of the repairs over the next three years. Earlier this year, Airena's flat, tar-paper roof was covered by a pitched roof of wood overlaid with sheets of galvanized iron; association leader Ibraev drove the truck bearing the first load of building materials.
The next stage of the renovation will be the replacement of the building's sewage and water pipes, followed by the finishing work inside, which will include plastering and wiring work. Residents of Airena include electricians who will help with that final stage.
"We were looking for an answer for so long," says Ibraev. "We were on the edge. Nowhere to go. We knew about Habitat in general, from television and newspaper, but we were surprised that we asked just for help to put a roof, and Habitat was ready to do that. For years, people here have just been surviving; now, we have some improvement in our lives."