A Habitat Story: “There is no more fear”

Thank you to Habitat for Humanity of Durham for sharing the following story with us about Lal and her family. They’ve now been in their Habitat home for over a year. Over the next few weeks, you’ll be able to read more inspiring Habitat stories. We hope that you will support LUEWWD IX: Nailin’ It! which is raising funds for the 2013 Women Build.

Lal Mawi/Thuam has experienced different types of homes throughout her life. The now 45-year old mother of two (son Gideon, 28 and daughter Naomi, 25) was born and raised in Burma. Officially called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Burma is located in South Asia, bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand.

For many years, Lal and her children lived in Burma with her parents. They all shared a room. Food was scarce. There was no electricity. The family would have to line up every day for a small rice portion, given by the government. Because of long-standing racial issues in the country, Lal and her family were identified as illegal aliens, unable to leave the area.

To help her family’s financial situation, Lal moved to Egypt to work and sent the money back to Burma. She stayed for six years, only returning once. Shortly after returning from Egypt, Lal and her children escaped the country and immigrated to Thailand.

The family stayed in a refugee camp for three years. Ten people to a room, they slept on a cot on the floor with mosquito nets. Every so often, the Thai police would enter the camp and line up the refugees, asking for identification. While the conditions may sound abhorrent to Americans, Lal and her family were grateful to be in Thailand because, for the first time, they had enough food to satisfy their hunger.

The family applied for refugee status in the United States in 2008 and was able to leave the refugee camp. The non-profit World Relief sponsored the immigration process and offered legal support, job training and English classes to the family.

“It felt a little bit like heaven,” Lal explains of her family’s first day in the U.S. “For the first time, we got to sleep on a bed. In Burma and Thailand, only the rich have beds. Here, even refugees have these things: a bed, a car, a job.”

Since arriving, Lal and her children have had various types of employment. Lal currently works at UNC-Chapel Hill in Housekeeping, Gideon is a translator for other refugees, and Naomi is a full time student at Durham Tech. They were selected for a Habitat home in 2011 and worked with the organization to rehab their home in Northeast Central Durham.

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Lal and her son Gideon

Lal and her family moved into their home in May of last year. It was the first time that each member of the family could have his or her own room.  When they first moved in, they were excited to decorate the home and plant trees in the yard.

“There is no more fear,” Lal says. “We won’t have to move again, because the home belongs to us.”

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