In a camp for displaced persons in the small village of Maai Mahiu, just north of Kenya’s expansive Rift Valley, a tanning industry executive helped place the stones that would become the 500,000th home built by Habitat for Humanity.
Michael Rolls, chief financial officer at Ridgefield, N.J.-based PC Tan has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for more than 11 years, and currently serves as a board member and treasurer for the Paterson, N.J., Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Rolls and six other members of the Paterson affiliate traveled to the remote Kenyan community, where, for five days, they plastered walls, mounted windows and doors and built trusses for the home’s iron-sheet roof.
According to a Habitat for Humanity report, the Paterson affiliate was chosen to participate in the construction of the 500,000th home because of its consistent tithing, which totaled $513,000 to Habitat for Humanity Kenya during the last 24 years.
“I was honored to be a part of creating this milestone," says Rolls, who was first drawn to the organization for its spirit of volunteerism and helping others. “As I learned more about Habitat’s mission, I realized the homebuilding program is a hand up and not just a hand out. The home partners have a real investment in their new houses."
And beyond building the home, the team witnessed a community brimming with hope, but whose residents have endured unspeakable loss and pain after disputed elections ignited tribal violence, turning neighbors and friends against each other, and forcing many of the families to live nomadic lives in tattered tents with mud floors.
“I believe an important reason why we went was to bear witness and hear the stories of the people," Rolls shares. “Many feel they have been forgotten. But even against these life-changing events, there is hope and an undeniable belief that their prayers were answered."
At the cost of $2,700 for each three-room house, Habitat Kenya plans to transform the once-tented camp into a community of 360 homes. With 260 houses already built, the development of the community of Vumilia Eldoret is being realized.
The Kenya house was dedicated on October 3, as part of events recognizing World Habitat Day. That same day, the walls were raised on Habitat's 500,001 house in Paterson, as part of Habitat’s continuing effort to create decent and affordable housing. The Paterson affiliate has built more than 225 houses.
Leah Wairimu Ngugi, the Habitat home partner who will live in the 500,000th house, states that Habitat’s presence in their community marked one of the happiest moments of her life. "I believe Habitat was sent by God," Ngugi says. “If it were not for them, we wouldn’t have come this far. For sure, God is answering my prayers because he’s opening ways for us to move from tents to houses."
Rolls has recruited his colleagues at PC Tan to join Habitat’s mission, participating in Habitat’s annual build event, the Corporate Challenge.