Home » Faith Formation and Pastoral Care » Little House on the Hilltop

By: Chris Reid.

If you are a regular reader of our quarterly newsletters, you may remember our brief story on Paulina, a woman with whom we are acquainted through Chris’s caregiver support group, Chanua. Paulina has no formal income or education and scrounges for the little money she has to support her family. She has 6 children one of which was born this summer. Of her 3 school-aged children, only one has ever attended school. She is married, but by default she is a single mother, as her husband simply disappears for months at a time. After falling many months behind on her rent (for a tiny house overcrowded with her landlord belongings), the family was forced to move into a single-room “home” the size of a storage shack.
There are many women that we encounter who live in very similar and difficult circumstances, but Paulina’s situation was particularly dire to us. Katie and I, along with my Capacitor coworkers, decided to take a more active role in assisting this family and help with the construction of a small house for Paulina and her family (two of her older kids attend my twice a month children’s group).
Despite her daily struggles, Paulina had luckily managed to purchase a small plot of land far up on the side of a rocky hill. After meeting with a fundi (a builder), we determined what our group could contribute to help at this time. Even with the low cost of local materials and the cheap cost of labor, the total added up to a significant amount (several hundred dollars). So we decided at this time we couldn’t build the whole house, but we could at least build half, which basically meant just one room. Katie and I contributed about a third of the building costs from our mission account donations (the remaining costs were provided by my coworkers).
The construction went well and quickly. The fundi had it built in just one week! So Sr. Genie and I made the trek up to the plot to see the house. Mwanza is a crowded area and growing daily. For those seeking land, the options are often limited especially for those who don’t have the ability to “shop around” and spend a lot to get a plot. The house is built on the rocky top of a steep hill- a hill that is already covered with other small shacks and houses. There are no formal roads to reach it. You either climb up the steep hill, scurrying over the rocks, our you take a daladala (a local bus) to an area called Buzariga and then either walk in or take a pikipiki (a motorcycle). We had to meet the fundi to guide us in because we couldn’t find the plot on our own, and then we each opted for a pikipiki and rode in to the spot.

Truly, the home is small- a single room with no toilet. You may be surprised to see how basic this home is. Remember, there are SEVEN people living in this room. (I myself was surprised at how small the house ultimately was), but this type of housing arrangement is not unusual for the poor in Mwanza. And maybe it’s tiny, but Paulina is now a homeowner, which puts her in a better position than many others in her circumstances.

Paulina stands with the builder (and her 3-day old newborn) at the new house.

The view from the house.

The above picture is a view of the house from the ground. As you can see, the house is located way up on a hill. this picture doesn’t adequately convey the hike it takes to get up the hill. When we had previously visited the spot before construction began, it took us about 20 minutes of climbing to reach it. To grasp the inequality that exists in Mwanza, compare Paulina’s house to the house in the foreground.
The family moved the week after it was completed, and the week after Paulina’s new baby was born. I can’t say their life is not hard, but perhaps it is a little easier now that Paulina will not have to worry about paying rent. There is space to build an additional room for the house, so hopefully in the future we can help make this happen. Katie and I are grateful for the financial support we get from our donors! It was the support of our donors that made this possible.

Erik Cambier
Erik Cambier served as Maryknoll lay missioner for 25 years, in Tanzania, the United States, Venezuela and El Salvador.