Xinyi, 8, lives in a Habitat house in southern China that was built by her grandfather more than a decade ago. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jason Asteros.

Home fix

A tough life is how Zhimin, 31, describes his years of growing up in a crowded, damp and leaky house in southern China. Now that he has a family of his own, he wants to ensure his two daughters, Xinyi and Youyou, do not have to go through the same experience.

Built by Zhimin's grandparents decades ago, the three-room house in Changliu village, Conghua district, Guangdong province, was too small for his family of five then. During the rainy season, the concrete floor became wet and slippery; dirt fell off from shoes that were worn inside the house after being used outdoors, resulting in a muddy floor. It was also very humid inside the house due to poor ventilation.

With strong winds and rains beating down on their mud-brick house over the years, more and more cracks started to appear on the walls. Rainwater also came in through the damaged roof and Zhimin’s parents had to repair or replace the roof tiles every year. The lack of proper sanitation, coupled with the chicken coop close to their house, made for an unhygienic environment.

Yongchu (right) and his wife Shuidai at their old house.

Zhimin's father Yongchu (right) and mother Shuidai at their old house that was damp and leaky, and unsafe. 

“My family longed for a safe, clean new house to replace the old one,” said Zhimin. However, they could not afford to build a new 100-square-meter house made of fired bricks and reinforced concrete which would have cost about 50,000 yuan (about US$8,000).

Zhimin’s parents, who are tangerine farmers, tried to save whatever money they could. Still, their savings was not enough as they had to provide for their two sons’ education as well as the medical expenses of Zhimin’s grandmother.

His father Yongchu, 58, said: “We worked very hard on our tangerine orchard but the annual harvest yields fluctuated with the weather and our income was unstable.” Apart from tending to their orchard, he and his wife Shuidai, 55, also take on other work to supplement the family income.

It was only in 2006 that Zhimin’s parents learned that Habitat for Humanity China provided housing microfinance services and technical assistance for families to build safe, decent homes. Their application to be Habitat homeowners was successful and they went on to rebuild a new house after their old one was demolished. They also had help from Habitat’s Global Village volunteers who built alongside them.

(Clockwise from top left): Zhimin, his father Yongchu, Zhimin’s wife Meiling with their youngest daughter Youyou and eldest daughter Xinyi, and his grandmother Nanjiao, in front of their Habitat house in Guangdong, China. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jason Asteros.

(Clockwise from top left): Zhimin, his father Yongchu, Zhimin’s wife Meiling with their youngest daughter Youyou and eldest daughter Xinyi, and his grandmother Nanjiao, in front of their Habitat house in Guangdong, China. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jason Asteros.

The family felt the difference after moving into their Habitat house made of fired bricks and concrete roof. “We no longer have to worry about leaks through the roof and the unsafe walls,” said Yongchu. His family has access to piped clean water from a mountain spring and a toilet inside their house. The chicken coop is now further from the house.

In 2007, a year after moving in, Zhimin's father Yongchu built a second story with a loan from his relatives. Nearly 10 years later, in 2016, he began constructing the third story using his savings but it was insufficient to complete the work.

After Zhimin and his younger brother had finished high school in 2008, he worked as an apprentice in a motorcycle factory while his brother sought work in another factory in a neighboring town. A few years later, Zhimin left his factory job to become a cook at a restaurant in Conghua city. With the earnings that Zhimin and his brother sent home, his father was able to repay the Habitat loan of 15,000 renminbi (over US$2,300) by 2011.

Over the past decade, new members have also been added to the family. Zhimin married his wife Meiling, 31, in 2009, and they now have two daughters — Xinyi, 8, and Youyou, 7 months.

About twice a month, Zhimin will return home when he gets days off from his restaurant job in Conghua, a two-hour drive away from the village. Back home, he helps out his parents in the tangerine orchard.

Zhimin would like to complete construction on the third story to provide more room for his daughters.

In two years' time, Zhimin hopes to complete the construction on the third story and give his daughters their own rooms.

Zhimin plans to complete the third story that his father had begun building in 2016. He wants his two daughters to have their own rooms. Looking at his daughters playing outside the house, Zhimin said: "I feel very happy that my children are growing up in a safe and clean home. They don’t have to endure the difficult days that I had when I was young."

As the Chinese saying goes, "one generation plants the trees, another gets the shade." Zhimin’s story underlines the better life that Habitat homeowners build for the next generation through safe, secure housing.

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