Jan 20 2018

Brick by brick

This is the second in a series of stories focusing on the challenges of finding adequate, affordable housing in the economically developing world. It originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of our print publication Living Unbound.

Aggy and her parents, Saimoni and Anna, stand outside their home of mud and corrugated tin. In the background, their new brick home awaits completion. Saimoni works on it with the builder every chance he gets.

“I wanted to try hard and take a step in life,” Aggy’s father, Saimoni, said. “My wife and I had a vision. We had a plan to make our lives better.”

For years, Saimoni and his wife, Anna, saved every Tanzanian shilling they could from his earnings as a night watchman and her income packaging and selling laundry soap. It wasn’t enough to get ahead, and they found themselves in debt.

“We had so many problems,” Saimoni said. “We lived in a small rental house. I was still a watchman, and the money I was earning was minimal. By the 10th or 15th of every month, I had no money with me. We would get food stuffs and promise to pay later. We were always in debt.”

Living conditions were crowded, with Aggy, two siblings and her parents all living in one room. Things became easier once Aggy got a sponsor through Unbound.

“Nutrition was provided,” Anna said. “It was such a great relief for us.”

The help from Aggy’s sponsorship gave the family the cushion they needed to put their dream in motion.

“We could now save a little and buy land,” Saimoni said. “We bought this piece of land as it was going for a cheaper price. Once I bought the land, I began saving for building materials.”

Saimoni built a mud house on the property and put an iron-sheet roof on it. Since he and Anna had no rent and spent less on food and education costs with Aggy’s sponsorship, they could save for a brick home, which they started building last year. They also budgeted part of the sponsorship benefits for construction.

Saimoni works nights and picked up extra work at construction sites during the day, which gave him ideas for how he wanted to design his house. He’s put sweat equity into the home, too, saving on labor costs by helping the builder. The home will have a living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen, with a latrine and shower outside the main structure.

An influx of people into urban areas of Tanzania in recent years has made access to affordable, well-constructed housing a critical need. About a third of the country’s population lives in cities, and the rate of urbanization is growing at about 5 percent a year, according to The World Factbook.

Tanzania is the largest and most populous country in East Africa. It’s below the equator, with Kenya and Uganda on its northern border. Dar es Salaam is on the coast of the Indian Ocean and is Tanzania’s largest city, with a population of more than 5 million.

Families in Unbound’s Dar es Salaam program put a premium on improving housing conditions, as evidenced by how they choose to spend sponsorship resources. A breakdown of program expenditures by category shows nutrition as the primary benefit, with 39 percent of expenses going for food; followed by home construction, 14 percent; tuition, 14 percent; bedding, 7 percent; and education supplies, 3 percent; with the remaining expenses spread among 19 other benefit categories.

The personalized nature of Unbound’s program means families can choose what they need most to forge a path out of poverty. Aggy’s family made better nutrition, education and a sturdy home their priorities. The sponsorship has given them breathing room to think beyond immediate needs and set goals for the future.

“When we finish constructing this house, we will move from the mud house to this brick one,” Anna said. “We will then rent out the mud house and earn some money from it.”

Sitting in the unfinished window of what will soon be her new home, Aggy reads a school book. The mud house where her family presently lives stands nearby in the Tanzanian sunshine.

Catherine Materu, a staff member with the Dar es Salaam program, said the family shows what’s possible with hard work, planning and a solid support network, which for them includes the local Unbound mothers group, staff and Aggy’s sponsors, Ted and Suzanne in Oklahoma.

“They have big visions,” Catherine said. “They see their future.”

Mothers groups in Unbound provide a way for parents to encourage and support each other, and many include savings and micro-loan programs. Anna took out a loan from her group to expand her soap business, and she’s already repaid it. Someday she’d like to open a small shop.

Aggy has a dream for her future, too.

“I want to be a doctor,” she said. “I want to cure sick people.”

For the immediate future, the family looks forward to enjoying life in their new home with a secure, comfortable space to rest, eat, study and dream.

“It used to feel bad living in the mud house,” Saimoni said. “Now, we feel like we have all we ever wanted in life.”

Loretta Shea Kline

Managing Editor

Loretta joined Unbound in 2000. She brings more than 30 years of experience in journalism and organizational communications to her role as managing editor. Her passion is telling stories of children, families and elders served by Unbound around the world. Loretta is a graduate of Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Des Moines, Iowa.

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