The week has finally hit a comfortable rhythm of work, learning, and exploring. Today was our fourth day of work, it’s hard to believe it has flown by so quickly.
Today we split into three work groups to build walls on the latrines and an additional communal kitchen. Our team members in bright yellow vests are becoming a familiar sight in the neighborhood and we are so grateful for the daily hospitality we experience from the families with whom we are working.
After a full morning of work in the build sites, the past two afternoons have brought us to several other Habitat home projects in different slum neighborhoods. The rules involving government-owned land throughout the city require any new construction to take up no more than the footprint of the structure it is replacing. So, the buildings Habitat is creating are far from large, with one structure containing 2-3 homes of one or two rooms each – generally just 300-400 or so square feet, smaller than the hotel room from where I’m writing.
Habitat has permission to build higher, though, and they are installing a loft space to add living quarters to many of the newly-construction homes. Habitat has also been installing sewer lines and water to living spaces across the slums. Meeting some of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable people has been sobering. But it is also reaffirming to see how little it can take to make a profound difference.
Today we met a woman who was displaced from her Oromo homeland about 700 kilometers away. She and her husband have 10 children and were living on the street. She gave birth to her last child (who is now four years old and disabled) in a gutter. All of this was difficult to hear, even as we appreciated her genuine smile and welcome. I came to see how very committed, compassionate, and caring our Habitat Ethiopia hosts are – every interaction is filled with dignity and respect for the people for whom they work. Their dedication and care allowed us to have these extraordinary encounters with people in their homes, leaving none of us unchanged.
Habitat helped this kind woman come to live in a compound with others who selflessly converted their communal kitchen into a room where some of her family can stay. Others in the family were given nearby housing while their Habitat home is built.
We visited the new home which would be ready in about a month – a very simple one room with a loft. It’s at the top of a hill up a pretty set of stairs lined with flowers. While it will be extremely simple and small by Portland standards, the view from her door across the city includes new skyscrapers – a dramatic change from her life on the side of a road.