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Becoming A Habitat for Humanity Family (Part 1): Meet the Yowins
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By Haydn Jensen

For the next two editions we’ll have a look at what it's like to become a Habitat for Humanity homeowner. Part 1 is a personal look at one family’s story. Part 2 will explore the application process and all the steps involved. Habitat Heartland Ontario will be looking for families over the next six months, so we thought this was a good opportunity to share what it's all about--perhaps you or someone you know would be a good fit!

I'd like to introduce you to the Yowin family: Juma and his three daughters Ayan, Agare and Abul. Juma is originally from South Sudan. Ongoing conflict there convinced him he needed to leave his homeland, so he fled to Egypt. After living in a refugee camp for a while there, he then was able to come to Canada as a refugee in 2005. In London, Juma and his wife had three daughters. The couple separated in 2011, and Juma is now a single father with sole custody of his girls. He works full-time at Cargill Meats to take care of his family.

Having lived in regions facing ongoing conflict and danger, Juma is very concerned that his girls grow up in a safe and stable neighbourhood. Civil war in Sudan is an obviously dangerous place for any family. Living in Egypt was not much better for Juma. There, he was frequently insulted with racial slurs and unable to do anything about it. Even here in London, Juma’s family first lived in some family-unfriendly neighbourhoods where gang activity, drug-dealing, gun violence and plenty of bad language were common. These were the only neighbourhoods they could afford. Wanting better for his family, Juma struggled to figure out how to get them into safer and more stable circumstances. He was employed but unable to save up enough to buy a house. When he learned from a friend about opportunities with Habitat for Humanity he decided to apply.

One of the big benefits of home ownership through Habitat for Humanity is the interest-free mortgage. This alone makes it possible for lower income families to own their own home because a market rate mortgage would be unaffordable. There are certain criteria by which each applicant family is evaluated, one being the ability to contribute 500 volunteer hours towards their own house build. Since Juma has done some work in home construction in the past, he was able to contribute and this helped make the Yowin family an excellent fit for the program.

Just to be clear, the Habitat for Humanity program is not specifically focussed on serving newcomers to Canada. Habitat’s Family Services and Outreach Coordinator Chelsey Gordon-Edmonds says they do get many applications from newcomers. They have partnered with about eight new Canadian families so far. She adds, “There is no difference in the criteria from a new Canadian to a generational Canadian. Everyone must meet the same criteria standards of an income between $25,000 - $60,000, good credit with manageable debt, and the willingness to partner. Habitat has no set priority to help one family over another, we simply make our selection based on the order that we receive the applications and if they meet our criteria for partnership."

With the Yowins now settled in their Habitat home on Tecumseh St. W., the family enjoys a sensibly designed and well-built home with enough room for everyone in a neighbourhood that’s much safer and friendlier than before. As a family, they like to go to the park, pool or splash pad. They’ve also enjoyed special outings to East Park Gardens, Niagara Falls, and African Lion Safari. Asked if they prefer Sudanese or Canadian cooking, the unanimous response was "Sudanese cooking!" One of their favourites is a traditional soup called combo, made with peanut butter, beef and spices. Juma calls Sudanese cooking "the best tasting food in the world!"

Everyone in the family helps with chores around the house as much as they are able, but the youngest is only 4 and still does a lot of watching. Ayan does dishes, Agare helps with garbages and sweeping and all three girls help dad sort and put away the folded laundry--that way everyone gets their own clothes back! Like every young family, it's a lot of work to keep the household organized. Juma sometimes get called in to work unexpectedly, but he has regular on-call babysitting help lined up when he needs it. He's a hard working dad who wants to do everything he can for the family. I can see that his girls notice this and they are learning to copy him by also doing their part.

Several Habitat builds have recently been completed or are under way in London and area. If you'd like to find out more, here's how:

Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario:

phone: 519.455.6623