“I was pregnant with my son,” Karelia remembers of that moment nine years ago, “and we were living in a small room made out of old wood tablets.” It was 2006, and Karelia and her family had just been selected to become beneficiaries of the Bridges to Community housing project in her community, which had just started that year.
With the help of a group of volunteers that came down from the US and a talented cohort of masons, Karelia and her family watched their new home go up in just one week. Since that time, so much has changed in Karelia’s life.
Motivated by being a new home owner, Karelia worked hard to make her monthly payments on the house—“I paid it off in 5 years,” she stated proudly. That’s two years ahead of schedule. That money went into a community fund for use by community members for small loans for businesses, maintenance of a health center, and home reparations.
But Karelia didn’t stop there. “I was working in a factory,” she explains, “and I didn’t have any one to take care of my children.” She and her husband had separated after their second child. “But before my husband left, he had mentioned to me this idea about raising chickens, and the idea stuck with me. After I paid off the house, I took out a small loan to start the hatchery, but with idea that it would be mine—my own business.” Karelia used the same community fund that she and others had helped to pay into through their house payments to take out her first loan, for $500. With that, she began to build the chicken coop.
Today, Karelia has several coops that house a total of 600 chickens. “I paid off the first loan, and also started a small sewing business out of my home. I combine to the two things in order to provide for my children, now 9 and 12 years old.”
With the income she earns from her two businesses, Karelia has even been able to make changes to the home she received through the housing project, and she remembers how far she and her family have come. “We now have our own home. Whereas before we would get wet from the rain and there wasn’t any space, now each of us has our own space—we’ve made divisions throughout the house. Now the house is bigger, we’ve added another room on it, and added a kitchen.”
Before finishing her story, Karelia made sure to add one important thing: “We just want to say thanks again to Maria, Michael, and Mark,” who were the leaders of the group that came to build her home. “It is thanks to them that we have our own home now.”