I am Julia! As part of the communications team of Habitat for Humanity in Asia-Pacific, we often conduct family interviews with Habitat home owners, so we can get a better sense of the impact that a home can have in their families and communities.
In 2018, I was in Myanmar to cover the first Asia Build, part of Habitat’s Young Leaders Build Campaign, which hosted more than 80 young volunteers from Japan and Hong Kong to build bamboo homes for local families. During that week, our photographer and I were assigned to visit other Habitat projects in the region, to visit some of the families who have been living in Habitat houses built the year before.
The build was taking place in Bago, Myanmar sixth largest city, but as we drove away, the landscape also started to change, with much less people, shops and houses, until we entered a dirt road that seemed to be taking us to the heart of the country. After a long drive, we finally received by Myint Myint Sein, her son Hein Zaw Htet and her mother-in-law Daw Yee in a very well-kept bamboo home where they have been living since the previous year. It was a very hot and humid April morning, but the family made us feel right at home, and as we got to talking, the light in their eyes was visible as they talked about the safety and stability that the Habitat home brought to their lives. They were grateful for the opportunity to partner with Habitat for Humanity, and were happy to share their story in building a better community through decent and affordable housing.
Towards the end of the conversation, Daw Yee approached me, gave me a quick hug and held my hand – she said “your skin is too pale, you need protection from the sun!” and promptly applied some thanaka (a paste made of tree bark, and a distinctive feature of Myanmar’s culture) on my cheeks. I was really touched to have her caring about me, a stranger in her house! We had a great time with them, learning more about their life, their new home and the community where they live. We bid farewell with excited hugs and the promise of sending them the photos we took, before moving on to other families we visited that day. This has been one of the highlights of my work with Habitat for Humanity: the chance to have honest and authentic conversations with people from different countries and backgrounds, transformed by the power of decent and affordable shelter – it really motivates me to do my best at work and really capture the essence of Habitat’s mission and vision. I still think about Daw Yee and her family, and wish from the bottom of my heart that they continue to thrive!
“Peace of mine” – Daw Yee’s family story: https://www.habitat.org/ap/stories/peace-mine