Achan Okech and her son Robert Bagio’s journey to Chattanooga has been long and hard, but they are poised to become homeowners. Construction of a simple, decent and affordable Habitat for Humanity home gets under way on Saturday, thanks to the Thrivent Builds partnership between Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Habitat for Humanity International, Chattanooga Lutherans and the Chattanooga Habitat for Humanity affiliate.
Born and raised in the Sudan, Achan and Robert faced persecution for their Christian faith.
Seeking a better life and freedom they moved to the Northern District of Kenya in 2000. Food shortages in the area as local tribal wars led to constant raids at night. Scavengers would steal cattle and food and attack people in their homes.
Robert began to learn English as he and Achan prepared for resettlement to the United States. After they arrived in Chattanooga in 2005, Robert found employment while Achan learned English. Once her language skills improved, she also found employment, and they were able to move from a one-bedroom apartment into a two bedroom unit.
Adjusting to life in a new place has brought its challenges – not having anyone that speaks their language, missing family members in the Sudan, and learning to navigate in a completely new culture. Achan wanted to have a home of her own, but could find no way to make it happen. After meeting another couple from the Sudan who had become homeowners through Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area, they applied and were accepted into the program. They are excited about their future in America and encourage other people like them to work hard and make a better future. “Habitat is the only way we can start our American Dream in this country,” says Achan. “We hope others come here and have the same opportunity that we have.”
Achan and Robert’s home is one of 142 to be built or rehabilitated in 2012 in 32 U.S. states through a $9.2 million contribution from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to the Thrivent Builds partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The home is the fifth Thrivent Builds home to be built in Chattanooga by area Thrivent members and Lutheran congregations.
Habitat for Humanity’s relationship with Thrivent Financial brings the financial, volunteer and advocacy resources of Thrivent Financial together with the affordable housing construction leadership of hundreds of local Habitat for Humanity affiliates. To date, more than 480,000 volunteers have donated more than three million hours to construct 1,600 homes, during seven year, $160 million home-home building partnership.
“We are extremely grateful for the continued partnership with the Southeast Tennessee – Northwest Georgia Thrivent Chapter and our area Lutheran congregations,” said John Lamb, director of Development with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area. “Their volunteer time and financial contributions, combined with Thrivent Build grant funds make a tremendous difference in the lives of the people we have been able to serve through this partnership. We are looking forward to getting this years build underway!"
Local financial support and volunteers for the build will come from Christ the King Lutheran Church (Dalton), Cross of Christ Lutheran Church (Hixson), Faith Lutheran Church (Chattanooga), First Lutheran Church (Chattanooga), First Lutheran Church (Cleveland), Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (East Ridge) and Trinity Lutheran Church (Hixson). Construction of the home begins Saturday, according to Lamb, and will continue over the next 16 weeks.
"Once the home is complete, it will be sold to Achan and Robert with a no-interest mortgage. Their payments in the years ahead will support the construction of more homes for families in need of simple, decent, affordable and safe housing in our area."