‘My family needed your help … and you gave’

How Habitat for Humanity makes a difference – close to home and faraway.

by Mark Waligore, Board President

When we think of Habitat for Humanity, we sometimes forget about the organization’s global mission.

Yes, our fundamental purpose at Habitat for Humanity – DeKalb is to provide a helping hand to those close to home.

But at the same time, volunteers can change lives in faraway places, too.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip.

Our group — a lawyer from Philadelphia, a Marine from Twentynine Palms, Calif., a career counselor from Tampa, to name a few — ventured to Redzynskie, a small village of about 1,400 people nestled among Poland’s wispy fields of corn, wheat and oats.

We arrived to finish a project that began years earlier, when a group of volunteers from Switzerland stood in this same field, in this same village, and began assembling the jigsaw puzzle of concrete blocks that would eventually become a two-story home for a deserving family.

“You can build a home, even though no one speaks the same language,” said Marta Lochowska, a volunteer coordinator at Habitat for Humanity Poland who helped organize our trip and served as our translator and tour guide. “Isn’t it amazing?”

Indeed, it was.

For several days, our group set up scaffolding and moved it again, and again and again, it seemed, to finish painting the exterior of the new home.

Working alongside professionals from Poland, we laid flooring, installed trim and hung drywall.

Somehow — through lots of pointing, plenty of patience and even a little translation via Google — we made it work.

In the end, we couldn’t help but marvel at the new home.

It was a far cry from the sagging farmhouse where Miroslaw Kawka, his wife, Agata, and their six children once lived – all crammed together in one room that measured only 269 square feet.

When asked what he would say to all the volunteers who had traveled to Poland over a two-year period to help him and his family, Miroslaw Kawka paused for a moment.

“My family needed your help … and you gave. I want to say, thank you … thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

“You have big hearts and set an example for helping people in need,” he said, the gratitude etched on his face. “You are a people who are ready to help others.”

On our final day in Redzynskie, we presented the Kawkas with a Polish Bible. A few nights earlier, each of us had written an inspirational message to the family on the Bible’s blank pages.

It was one of the many poignant moments that I’ll never forget from our trip.

“This,” said Miroslaw Kawka, clutching the Bible, “will always remind us of each of you.”

These journeys – and Habitat for Humanity’s important work – have a way of changing your perspective.

Before leaving for Poland in 2019, I was scrambling to line up materials to add a second bathroom to our small home in East Point.

But after witnessing how the Kawka family lived in Poland, that project no longer seemed as important as it once did.

So, that second bathroom waited a while longer.

After all, as I learned during my time abroad, there are more meaningful things to focus on.