It had not been a good few months for George Randall.
He lived in a home that made him and his family sick, he lost his job and was diagnosed as an alcoholic. Life was tough and George’s way of dealing with it was to “sulk”.
But a year or so earlier, he and his wife Rhea had been accepted by Habitat for Humanity to have a house built for them, along with three other families, on St Vincent St.
When work began on building the four homes, George headed along to complete his mandatory 500 hours of work on the project, “still sulking”. He says what happened next was the wake up call he needed.
“I felt like everything was falling to pieces and I wanted the best for my family, but I just couldn’t cope anymore. Julian [Shields] and Rob [Silcock] just cracked the whip and didn’t let me get my head down. I just had to work.”
Soon George’s 500 hours passed but he kept turning up and working. By the end of the project he had logged more than 1000 hours.
Once the homes were built, George went along to Cover Staff and got work as a labourer and then got a job at NZ King Salmon, where he still works today. He says helping build his own home gave him a sense of worth and new skills.
“I was doing things I didn’t think I could do and when we moved in our home was warm and I know everything about this house. When the heat pumps were installed I watched the guy do it and asked how to change the filter, now I change it every year before winter.”
Next weekend George, Rhea and the other three families that live in the Habitat homes will officially take over the ownership of the homes.
Since moving in five years ago the families have been paying rent to Habitat, now that money has been given back to them to form a huge deposit which will be used to get a bank mortgage.
Nelson’s Habitat chairman Rob Silcock says it’s a special moment to see families take over the ownership of their homes and it also allows the organisation to move onto the next build, which for him and his team will be in Kawai St later this winter.
“It’s a great moment and nice to see these four families get their homes. Now they can do what they want with them, sell them, whatever, it’s theirs.”
Rhea says the home has meant more to her family than just a roof over their heads. “It’s got us on the property ladder and we thought we’d be renting until the boys [aged 10 and 7] had left school. Since we moved here the kids are hardly ever sick, George doesn’t have asthma anymore. It’s been a big change. It’s amazing how much of a difference just the environment makes.”
But it isn’t just the Randalls who have had a huge turnaround in fortunes thanks to Habitat. The other three families in the cul-de-sac say they’re hugely grateful for their homes.
Api and Rota Domoni and their five children were living in a three bedroom home before Habitat built their new home. Api – originally from Fiji – says he still vividly remembers laying the first stone.
“I remember Rob and I laying the first two blocks on the bottom corner of the house. Rob kept telling me ‘Api, if these two blocks aren’t level the whole house will be crooked’. That’s a nice story to tell.”
The other homes will be owned by two Burmese families. Pa Peng Tun and his wife Nu Vang say their home has been life-changing. They never thought they’d be able to buy a house in Nelson for them and their three children.
“We saw the Habitat for Humanity programme talked about at Victory School and we applied. We are very happy and very grateful to Habitat. We are very happy here,” says Pa Peng.
Ram Za Thang Lianching and his wife Ngai Ciang echo those statements. Gratitude, excitement, happiness, it beams from all the families.
The families officially take over the ownership of their homes on May 29, with a ceremony on Sunday, May 31.