After a weekend filled with lots of hard work, we are finished with the Restoring Dignity project #3! I was especially excited to complete this project, because this family truly had next to nothing, when it came to basic home supplies. The first time that I met this family and assessed what needs they had, I was shocked. For a family of seven, there was one twin bed, one pillow, and one towel. There was no light in the main family room, so at night the family would sit in darkness, all because there was a lack of a lamp. The father, who is majorly disabled due to stepping on a landmine in his home country of Burma, slept on the one bed, while the mother and five children slept on the floor. The day that I took pictures of their situation, a friend of mine had graciously donated two twin beds and a couch for them. The bed bug situation was even more precarious. The entire apartment complex is infested with them, and even though the landlord assured me that he sprayed for bugs every month, it didn’t seem to make a difference. There was no silverware in the kitchen, no dish soap, no hand towels for cleaning or drying dishes (which they had very little of). The bathroom was in worse condition, with mold growing on every surface imaginable.
I didn’t understand why nothing had been cleaned, until I looked around some more, and found that this family owned no cleaning supplies, no rags to clean with, no paper towels. And even if they did own these supplies, they do not read English nor their own language, making it impossible to know what to use or how to use it.
There is such a barrier between what we know in our developed country, and what people in developing countries are taught. For this family, school was not a reality in their country. The mother had never been educated in her country, so how could she possibly know about mold and its health effects, or about the dangers of leaving eggs in the cupboard or food out on the table all day.
This is where we stepped in- to both teach and help these families how to take care of their homes, and keep them clean. With the help of a close friend of theirs, who interprets for them, we taught the family about mold, how to kill it using bleach, why not to leave food out on the table, the importance of eggs being refrigerated, how to use a vacuum cleaner, and how to keep bed bugs from biting at night by wrapping pillows and mattresses in plastic.
I do not think that the “before and after” videos give justice to what our volunteers do to make these homes look so dramatically better. So here is a breakdown of what happened this weekend:
We arrived at 10am on Saturday and immediately filled buckets with water and degreaser solution and bleach. Every square inch of every wall was scrubbed, sometimes it took a lot of elbow grease to eliminate stains left from bugs that were living behind pictures and in corners. In the kitchen, everything was taken out of the cabinets, and the cabinets were first cleaned with degreaser and then bleached, to disinfect. New cabinet lining was laid down, to make for easier cleaning in the future. The oven was moved, and the wall and floor behind it was cleaned, as well as the inside of the oven. The refrigerator was emptied, disinfected, and then reloaded again. Spices, garlic, and rice were placed into plastic containers, to keep bugs out, and the family was taught the importance of always keeping food in the plastic containers. In the bathroom, everything was bleached to kill the mold, scrubbed, bleached, and then scrubbed some more. A plumber was called in to fix the toilet, because it was not flushing. The cabinets were bleached, and then new liner was put in them as well, for easier cleaning. In every bedroom the walls and closets were bleached and scrubbed, and the clothes were sorted and put way in the dressers. Closet poles were installed, so the family could hang their clothing, and hangers were provided because they had none. Then came the steaming of the carpet, to kill many of the bed bugs. I have had many people ask me if you can really hear bed bugs pop when they are steamed, and the answer is yes. It is quite gratifying to hear the sound actually, because then you know that you are actually helping to reduce their numbers. Next, the carpet was vacuumed (and a vacuum was given to the family, because their only vacuum was broken). And then came the 4-5 hours of carpet cleaning. End of day one.
We arrived again at noon on Sunday, and began bringing all of the donated items. When I brought in the bags of toys, the children started literally screaming with joy, because they had never owned toys before. It was at this point when I had to leave the apartment because I was afraid I was going to start crying- I have never seen children so excited over something that my children take for granted every day. The bunk bed was brought in and assembled, as well as the full size bed and box springs that was donated as well. This full size bed means something much bigger than just a picture in a video. It means that the mother and father will actually be able to sleep side by side for the first time since moving into this apartment. The mother was very excited to not have to sleep on the floor anymore. The mattresses were all bagged in plastic, which also means so much more than just preventing bed bugs from biting at night. This keeps the mattresses safe from the accidental bed wetting that happens with children who are young. On each bed was placed two pillows, and this may not seem like anything that special, but keep this in mind, this family owned ONE pillow for the year that they have been in this country. The children were so excited to have their own beds, their own pillows, sheets, blankets. I had to stop and ask myself, when is the last time I laughed with joy at having sheets on my bed? A generous friend of ours bought and installed a ceiling fan in the parents room, and what a difference that made in keeping the room cool, especially for the father.
Finally, after 16 hours of work, the apartment was finished. It took 20 volunteers to pull this off, and more donations than I can count. I hope this paints a better description of the work involved, and how amazing these volunteers are. I love all of them.
In summary, I just want to express my gratitude towards all of those people who donated and volunteered. It may seem like a simple act to give a basket full of towels, but to a family of seven who have only one, it means much much more. These people that we help are just like you and me. They laugh and they love, and they hurt and they cry. They have big dreams and lots of ambition. They are amazing, and they deserve a chance, just like the rest of us. I hope that what we do as a community will give them that dose of hope that will help them to better achieve their goals and dreams. I hope that they will sleep happier tonight, that they will live healthier, that they will see a glimpse of the reason that we do these things…and then my thoughts shift once more to the next family that we will reach out to. Who are they? What are their names? Because while we may have helped one family, there are thousands more in this city alone that are crying out in desperation. Here’s to the next Restoring Dignity project.
God bless all of you,