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Joseph's house
Saturday, 29 November 2008 Written by Valerie Kae Ken

Joseph in front of his finished houseHome sweet home… At long last, Joseph has a house to call his own!

It all began when Joseph Nzirorera, a teacher at the Tailoring division of CFJ Padri Vjeko School, went to Olds, Alberta, Canada for a three month stay to improve his teaching skills. While at the college, he touched the hearts of many people and when the idea of raising funds to help Joseph to build a house for himself was introduced into the community, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Some months earlier, Joseph had managed to purchase a piece of land with money saved from his teaching position at the school in Kivumu, Rwanda. This was not an easy feat, as his monthly salary is the equivalent of $70 Canadian but he managed to save the money by only eating the one meal a day that was provided for him at the school. Like so many people who know much suffering and hardship in their life, it was just one more sacrifice for Joseph to make in order to achieve his dream.

Joseph on his landSo, having enjoyed his stay in Canada and having learned a great deal to help him in his teaching position at CFJ Padri Vjeko School, Joseph returned to his African homeland. The funds that were so generously donated by Canadians who opened their hearts and wallets, gave Joseph the great opportunity to begin building his house. First, work had to be done to prepare the land where his home was to be constructed. The area was measured off and a channel was dug out to create a foundation for the outer frame of the house. To the side of the proposed site digging began to make the bricks he would use for his home. In Rwanda, the earth from the property itself is used to prepare the bricks for the building. So a crater soon developed on his land where the material for the bricks was taken out, formed and left to dry. To build the house with “fired” bricks would put the cost above what Joseph’s fund could allow, so unfired bricks were used; although not as strong, they are still perfectly acceptable.

Bricks drying in preparation for buildingSoon all was ready to begin the actual construction. As the walls went up, so did the level of Joseph’s excitement.. It was thrilling to see the joy in his eyes whenever he watched the next stage of the building of his home. We made regular visits to the site to supervise the work and to advise the workmen when changes had to be made... Originally, there were to be four small rooms to be used for sleeping. We convinced Joseph that the space would be better used for a larger sitting room and he agreed, so we reduced the sleeping rooms to three only (one for himself and two others that might be used as some kind of additional revenue in the future). These changes were easily done because the dirt bricks just had to be knocked down and a new wall rebuilt in another location.

The walls are builtSoon the main structure was complete and the roofing began. The roof consists of wooden tree limbs tied securely in a pattern to completely cover the overhead area. Then clay tiles are placed overlapping each other to finish the surface. At the same time that this was going on, a deep pit was being dug in one location that would be the latrine. There are no modern facilities like flushing toilets or running water.  The large hole was prepared and would later be finished off using local construction methods. Next to this area is a “shower room”. Again, because there is no running water, there is no possibility of an actual shower; it is simply a bathing area for Joseph, consisting of a counter where he will place a basin to wash from and a floor gutter dug along the wall to allow waste water to run outside of the house. Water will have to be carried from a local source or perhaps eaves troughs will be placed at the edge of the roof to catch rainwater to serve his daily needs.

Roof ConstructionPit for the latrineBroken boulders cover the floorJoseph inside his home

Next the floor surface of the house needed to be prepared. This is done by hollowing out the floor area to a required depth and placing large chunks of broken up rocks to cover the surface... This will later be finished by pouring a layer of concrete until there is a smooth, even finish. The walls will also get a smooth coating of concrete to finish them.

Next the door and window frames have to be constructed, which, if wooden, will be made by the students in the carpentry division of CFJ Padri Vjeko Shool. If they are to be metal, then they will be done by local craftsmen. All window and door frames must be made to measure because nothing is exactly right angles in Africa – smiles!

The house ready for plasteringWhen the house is finally finished, there will be rooms for all daily activities. A sitting room will likely have a small couch and perhaps one other chair and a small table. The bedrooms will have mattresses on the floor and eventually a wooden bed frame with a foam mattress (when Joseph can afford to have them made). Any bed tables and closets will be wooden units built perhaps at the school by students when Joseph is ready to put in an order. Cooking will be done in the “kitchen” which is located across an open space from the living area. Usually it is done on a charcoal unit placed on the ground, or, as is more often, three stones equally spaced. A pot with the meal’s ingredients is placed over the heat until cooked. A store room next to the kitchen will allow for any dried foods (beans, rice, etc.) to be safely kept. Although by European and North American standards, the finished house will appear very basic, it will be a palace for Joseph. He will take time over the coming years to make decisions to add furnishings to his dream house.

Inside the compound – the kitchen and store roomAnyone who donated to Joseph’s house will be thrilled to see the finished product. He will be able to face his future with one less worry. In a world of uncertainty and insecurity, the possession of land and a physical structure are very real, tangible assets that cannot be taken from him. Joseph has faced many hardships in his life. He has never complained and he has never given up. He looks at life with hope and optimism and he is willing to work hard to make his dreams come true. With the help of generous donors, he has succeeded.

Father Vjeko Center

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