John, Marie, their five children; Soline, Prince, Sonia, Samuel and Soloman, are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has suffered from political instability, insecurity and violence since its independence in 1960.
The family sought safety in a Zimbabwean refugee camp in 2006 and spent seven years there.
John says the living conditions in the camp were harsh, unhealthy and unsafe. It was hard to get food and water, there were no employment opportunities for John and Marie, and there were no educational opportunities for their children there.
Luckily, they were granted amnesty in 2013 and relocated to Tucson. Just a few months after arriving in Tucson, John got a job doing maintenance work at an RV park and Marie found work as a caregiver. John is a minister of a local church and has fostered a supportive community through his fellowship.
After coming to Tucson and moving into an apartment, John realized he wanted more for his family. He knew the money the family was spending on rent could go towards a down payment for a safe and stable home.
While they like their current neighborhood, it can sometimes feel unsafe. There is a small park near their home with a transient population and they’ve seen people enter their neighbors’ yards and even their homes.
As renters, it takes a long time for items in the home to be repaired. The family’s security gate to their front door has been broken for more than five months and is yet to be fixed, which worries John. A friend in John’s community told him about Habitat for Humanity Tucson, the family applied in March of 2017 and were accepted to the program in April.
John and Marie have finished their sweat equity hours and are almost done with their homeownership classes. John pictures the day of their dedication. “We’re so excited to choose our home. We’ve been to more than five or six dedications and I can’t wait for us to be in that position. Seeing our family partner hold the key to our home and say, this is your house!”
That thought is what kept John going through his sweat equity hours when the work was especially challenging. John did his construction hours at the peak of the summer. He changed his work schedule to build in the morning when it was cooler and then went to work, sometimes working thirteen hour days.
“Sometimes I cut my hours at work to finish my sweat equity hours. The work is hard physical labor but I was still happy about it and I didn’t see anything stopping me from this opportunity,” says John.
Despite the hard work, it made John feel like he was contributing and utilizing the skills that he has learned through his maintenance work, such as landscaping and plumbing, at the build site. He and Marie also like working with a group, meeting volunteers and being a part of that community. They’ve enjoyed getting to know their future neighbors and are moved by how many people come out and donate their time.
“To me, Habitat Tucson is a community. And I am happy to be included in that community. Everybody is doing the same type of work and it invigorates me when I see other people doing the same hard work I do every day,” says John.
He goes on to say, “Even though I’ve finished my hours, I’m ready to volunteer my time to build another family’s home. I am inspired by volunteers who give their time for no other reason than to give back. Now I have the experience and I can share that knowledge and help other families.”
Their children couldn’t be prouder. “They’re building a house for us to live in. And I am looking forward to building memories there and having experiences there. Making friends in my new school,” says Soline, their oldest daughter.
When asked what home means to her, Soline said