My new house will be 1200 square feet and one story tall. It will have three bedrooms and one bathroom. It won’t have leaking pipes, a leaking roof, a broken furnace or mold. It won’t be unsafe. My daughter will miss our old, drafty house, the one where she could race down the stairs and had lots of space to play. But our new house will bring us new experiences. My daughter can even have sleepovers with friends. Our new house will change our lives — it will be our HOME.
When I first heard about Habitat for Humanity and the help it gives to families, I thought to myself, “If you don’t try, you will never know.” So, I submitted an application and was accepted into their program. To earn my new home, I need to complete education courses and must donate 250 hours of “sweat equity” to my own and other Habitat projects. My friends have helped by donating volunteer hours as well.
My friends have been very generous in supporting me. They know my story, the trouble that I’ve dealt with. They have become my family and have helped me survive. They told me, “You deserve to have a new house.”
I could not have survived without this “friend family” of mine. You see, my story is not a pretty one. My past is filled with deception and abuse. It contains pain and despair. But, my friends saw me through these things and worked with me so that I could give myself and my daughter a better future.
My story begins in a foreign land, the land where I was born. Girl children were considered undesirable there, so my childhood was difficult, particularly when my stepfather abused me. But a neighbor saw my suffering, took me in when I was 12 years old, and raised me. This highly-educated man became my “grandfather” and supported me in many ways. As a professional, he was able to pay for my schooling to become a nurse. I made my grandfather proud by becoming a well-respected nurse and a leader in my hospital.
Then a turning point came. I decided to go on-line to learn a new language — English. It was there that I met my future husband. We chatted over the Internet so I could practice my English. He even traveled to my country to visit me. We seemed to have a lot in common. I fell in love. I was willing to give up everything to join him in the United States . . . . my house, my career, my country.
It soon became clear that the person I met on-line and had fallen in love with was not the same person I had married. He was a substance abuser and suffered from mental illness, and he was chronically unemployed. It also became clear that he married me so I could support him, and that he was very willing to beat me to make sure that I did.
I became a victim of physical, emotional and psychological abuse.
I also was victimized because I was an immigrant. I knew little about this country and was easily taken advantage of. When my husband said that my name could not be placed on the deed to our home because I wasn’t a citizen, even though I paid for the house, I believed him. When he told me that my name could not be placed on the title to our car for the same reason, even though I paid for the car, I believed him. When he told me he would sponsor my green card, I believed him. When he threatened that he would take our daughter away from me if I disobeyed, I believed him. My husband controlled my paycheck, my movements, my everything . . .
Then he threatened to make me “disappear.” He could do that, he said. After all, I was just a foreigner. No one would care if I was gone; the police wouldn’t believe me if I sought help.
But I was too smart to be abused any longer. I realized that it’s my life; it belongs to me.
When I left, I had no house, no car, no driver’s license, no credit, and no money. But I did have something important — I had good friends, the people that I worked with. They helped connect me with A Better Way women’s shelter and find temporary housing. They co-signed a loan for a car, took me to my driver’s license test, and sponsored my green card.
I also had a daughter who I was willing to fight for. When we divorced, my ex-husband initially gained custody of her by making false accusations against me. This was an awful time. After a long struggle, and the help of my friends, the judge finally granted me joint custody.
The judge also made my ex-husband give me the house, but it had been badly neglected. The furnace was broken, the utilities were shutoff, and liens had been placed against it because he hadn’t paid the bills. He also removed everything from the house, including the light bulbs and door bell.
Still, I had both my daughter and my house back. And there was one more thing . . . I was back in school.
School is an important part of my life. While I had been working in a health care setting, I wasn’t able to be a nurse in the U.S. because my nursing license was from a foreign country and was no longer active. So, I’ve returned to school so I can become a nurse again.
It’s hard to juggle work, school, my commitment to Habitat to Humanity, and raising my daughter. But soon we will have a new house in which to live our new life. For her, the struggle is worth it. And, I’ve come to realize, I’m worth it too.
— As told to Dr. Beth Messner, Associate Professor of Communication Studies Ball State University
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.