Hadeeja can finally smile. And she does it while holding the “13 Houses” Campaign plaque in front of her new house with her three sons and her daughter. For this widow and mother of four living in Mtindu, Tanzania, the Campaign has represented a chance for a new beginning and a better life for herself and her children. Hadeeja used to live in a small rented room but, due to health problems, she couldn’t work and so she wasn’t able to pay rent and provide food for the family.
This led Fr Christian Panduka and the Sisters of Mercy of St Vincent de Paul, the branches collaborating in the project, to recommend her as a beneficiary of the Campaign. The Vincentian Family in Tanzania is building 13 Houses in the nine dioceses where it is present in this east African country. So far, six out of the 13 have been built.
Hadeeja and her children met the profile that the Vincentian Family in Tanzania are focusing on. They know of many families who rent rooms and are at risk of eviction; rent and bills take away most of their meagre income. Stigmatisation and the shame that accompanies this situation only adds to the insecurity, and the constant change of address affects the children’s education. Also, according to Tanzanian Vincentians, women and children are not safe in the rented rooms as they are more exposed to abuse especially when the male relatives are far away at work.
As Hadeeja didn’t own land, the first step for the Vincentian Family was to buy a plot in her name. The transportation of materials and water availability also delayed the construction, but the Vincentian Family was able to overcome these issues. They have built a house with three rooms, a dining room and storage space. Following the local custom, the kitchen and toilets are outside the house. They also built a septic tank and provided proper sanitation.
The Vincentian Family hopes that living in a decent and safe house will “cause a chain-reaction of improvements to their livelihoods”. They now can spend their money on healthy and balanced food, and good healthcare and education for their children, who now have a better place to study. Crucially, a decent standard of living, in their own house, will improve their self-esteem.
This “13 Houses” project also shows the ecumenical reach of the Campaign and the Vincentian work for the poorest of the poor. Hadeeja and her family are Muslims, but that was no barrier to benefit from the Campaign. The only difference was that their new house was not formally blessed. As Vincent de Paul said, “provided God’s work is done, it does not matter who does it”.