It’s been some time since I last saw little Soheil, basket in hand, carrying sand from the pile to the building site. At only 6, Soheil seemed to take the task of building his new home very seriously, offering only the rarest of smiles when one of my antics finally amused him.
In the 4 months since, Soheil and his family’s home has been completed. It’s a simple home, 2 rooms squeezed in between 2 other homes in, Degaon, a small village, some 30kms from the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.Even in such a small village, there is little space to move; in a country of 140 million, your home may be the only privacy you can have; in a country of such extreme poverty, your home may be your only real possession.
Soheil is excited to show me his new home. He still has the same serious face, but is obviously proud of his surroundings. He jumps up and down on the family bed, he points out the fan and the walls, the new windows and the cement floors.
To a western eye, the house is hardly the ideal new home; the bricks are uncovered to the outside elements, mortar seems brittle compared to what we are used to, and the moss growing along one side of the wall belies the home’s real age.
Yet it’s a far cry from the tin shack his family had been living in before. Soheil’s father, Mohammad, says before the partnership with Habitat, they had no choice but to live the way there were, himself, his wife, his son and 1 year old daughter, and his mother in a shack barely half the size of 1 room of their new home; “I needed a better environment for my children”.
While striving to provide families with new dwellings, the extent of poverty in Bangladesh equates to using the bare minimum of consumables. Painting one’s house is a luxury few can contemplate, let alone afford. Despite these obstacles, Habitat Bangladesh still adheres to a strict code of quality; though cosmetically the home is vastly different to traditional homes in the west, it is a safe, durable, affordable place of peace.
The family had heard of Habitat’s work through others in the village, and approached Habitat staff to see if he could apply for the program. A cook by trade, Mohammad knew his family could no longer afford to live in such a poor environment. I ask him if as a Muslim family they felt any apprehension about working with a Christian organization. He smiles and replies confidently that he had no concerns at all, citing the Hindu and Buddhist families Habitat has worked with in this very village. Indeed, the construction of the home itself showed how much families from different faiths and backgrounds were happy and eager to join together to help build each others homes.
Habitat’s use of international volunteers also surprised Mohammed and his family. “I never imagined this (foreign volunteers helping) could happen!” says Mohammed. His mother was particularly impressed with the female volunteers from the International School Dhaka who gave a week of their time to help build the home; “I felt very happy when I saw the girls working.”
Soheil can’t stop posing for pictures. He is smiling a lot more now, eager to show off every brick of his new home. Compared to what he used to live in, this home is a veritable palace, safe from the elements, clean, above the water level, and most of all, full of space.
As I prepare to leave the family, Mohammed shakes my hand eagerly, warmly. Being here it’s easy to see how much a home means to a family. “I never expected anything like this”, says Mohammed, saying goodbye with his daughter Shamin held in his arms, as Soheil, now beaming, head held high, waving as I walk away, promising to return.
- Story and Pictures, Pierre Johannessen