Archive for family stories

Housing and Education

A decent home provides kids with more than shelter. It’s gives them a place to succeed.

Finally Home

Leandra and Guadalupe Huante

Leandra Huante and her daughter Guadalupe in the Huante’s new Habitat home

The Huante family used to live in a dilapidated two-bedroom house without insulation. The home was conveniently near the farm where husband Jaime Huante works, and for a couple working three jobs between them and struggling to get by, it was the best shelter they could afford.

Winters were so cold that the couple didn’t feel safe letting their children sleep in their frigid north-facing bedroom, so the whole family crowded into Jaime and his wife Leandra’s room during the coldest months of the year.

When Leandra, a Whatcom County native, learned about Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County’s homeownership program, she convinced her husband that they apply. They figured it was a long shot. But they had nothing to lose.

When they were accepted into the program, the family dug into their 500 hour sweat equity requirement and did not look back. Leandra worked at the Habitat Store in between her two part time jobs and caring for her children. After all that, she still found time to cook pots of homemade soup for delighted construction volunteers working on her home.

Jaime joined the construction crew almost every Saturday, after having risen at 3 a.m. to milk cows. After building all day, he returned to the farm for another shift of milking.

This summer, the Huante family moved into Habitat Whatcom’s first ultra-energy efficient “passive” style house. Even before their first winter, Leandra says the family has noticed a dramatic decrease in their utility bills.

The children have their own rooms (though sisters Alejandra and Guadalupe are close and prefer to room together) and a place they are proud to invite friends over to play, and instead of a remote, rural road with fast traffic and no sidewalk, they live on a quiet dead-end street, near other families with young children. There is a park at the end of the street, and the Interurban Trail is just over their back fence.

“We love to ride our bikes together,” Leandra says. “We go all over town.”

Five-year-old Guadalupe just started Kindergarten, and is proud to show visitors her new backpack and school supplies. Leandra hopes her children can go to college one day. With all the advantages of a safe, healthy, stable home, and the hundreds of dollars each month that the family is saving on housing and utility bills, seeing her children graduate from college is now a realistic dream.

When asked what the biggest difference is between their new home and the old one, Leandra laughs and looks skyward helplessly, as if she doesn’t know where to begin. Before her mother can start to speak, Guadalupe interrupts with her opinion. “We’re safe,” she says.

“Yes,” Leandra agrees, smiling at her daughter. “We’re safe.”

Building a Future with Habitat

Meet the Singh-Kuar family

Sajan Singh and Resham Kuar

Sajan Singh and Resham Kuar at the construction site of their Habitat home

World Habitat DayResham Kuar and her husband Sajan Singh have lived in Bellingham since they immigrated to the United States from Fiji seven years ago.

“The economy in our country was so bad that if we worked whole days, we would get five or six bucks only,” explains Resham, as she and Sajan stand on what will soon be the front porch of their small, energy-efficient home, currently under construction in Bellingham. “We were not able to feed our children properly.”

The couple is of Indian descent. Their ancestors came to Fiji during the time of the British Empire, when many Indians were recruited to come to Fiji to work. Sajan, who is deaf, was a farmer in Fiji. The couple has three adult sons.

When Resham’s younger brother, David, immigrated to the U.S., he was able to sponsor Resham and Sajan’s immigration as well. The couple’s youngest son, P.J. came with them, but their other children remain in Fiji.

Since Sajan’s hearing difficulties have made it impossible for him to hold a job here, Resham supports the family working the closing shift at a local fast-food restaurant. Though the work is difficult, she is proud to do it, and she enjoys her job and her co-workers. In seven years, she has only missed a day or two of work when she was sent home sick. But Resham’s low wages are not enough to support even two people in a small apartment.

“I was just struggling to pay the rent, and all the other bills,” Resham says. Sometimes at the end of the month, the couple didn’t have enough to purchase basics they needed for themselves. Saving money for the future was not even an option.

Before they began construction on their Habitat home, Sajan put in several hundred hours of volunteer work in the Habitat Store. Despite the communication difficulties of being hearing impaired and having little English, he was able to work alongside store staff, cleaning and moving furniture. Now that the Singh-Kuar’s home is under construction, Sajan, their son P.J., and other members of their extended family regularly spend Saturday’s helping out on the job site.

Owning a home will change everything, Resham says. Growing up poor in Fiji, her parents had no wealth to pass on to her to help her build a future. Now, she and Sajan will have a home to pass on to their children. By having lower housing costs, they can find some financial breathing room to plan for their own retirement. And though her mortgage payments will return to Habitat to help build homes for other families, she hopes to be able to find a few dollars extra each month to donate to Habitat’s work.

“Because of them, I got this house,” she says. “I just can’t say too much, because my heart cries.”