To understand just what this Habitat for Humanity house means to the Kawka family, it helps if you first step inside their current home.
See this one room? This is where Miroslaw, his wife, Agata, and their six children all live. It’s only 269-square feet and is situated on their family farm in the Polish village of Redzynskie.
See those three sofas along the walls? That’s where everyone sleeps. There’s no heat. No bathroom. No real kitchen. A single sink provides the home’s only running water.
See that desk? That’s where the children do their homework – beneath a small crucifix that keeps a watchful eye over the family.
“It was a big shock,” said Natalie Smith, a volunteer who is a freshman at the University of South Carolina. “It’s hard to believe that an entire family was living in such a small, dark place.”
All of this explains why Habitat for Humanity volunteers from seven different countries have been building a new home for the Kawka family since April 2017.
Over the last week, our group of Americans ventured to Poland as part of a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to help finish the home.
Yes, plenty of work remains for skilled professionals – there are tiles to be laid; plumbing fixtures to be installed – but the family is just weeks away from moving in.
On Friday, as we wrapped up our work, we stood in the soon-to-be kitchen with its marble window sills and its pastel yellow walls.
During our stay, the future dining room/living room served as a makeshift cafeteria to feed our group of 14. The downstairs bathroom, when it is finished, will even accommodate a washing machine. (As we learned, there are no clothes dryers in Poland.)
Upstairs, two of the children, Kacper, 11, and Szymon, 16, will share one of the bedrooms. Each of the children picked out their own paint colors. Kacper and Szymon chose a subtle green.
Veronika, who is 8, has her own room. She selected a muted gray.
“It’s going to be nice to have a place to put my own clothes, my toys and my jewelry,” Veronika said.
The bright orange room belongs to Dominik, who is 9, and his brother, Sebastian, who is 14.
The youngest of the children, Amelka, who is 3, will remain in the downstairs bedroom with her mom and dad until she can safely navigate the steps leading to the second floor.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for the family,” said Natalie, who spent Friday washing a coat of dust and splatters of paint from the windows and mopping the hardwood floors in each of the bedrooms. “To go from one room with no running water to this.”
The overwhelming nature of it all wasn’t lost on Miroslaw.
“My family needed your help … and you gave,” he said during an impromptu ceremony before we departed for Warsaw. “I want to say, thank you … thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
“Because of you and all the volunteers, our dreams came true. You are a people who are ready to help others.”
Before we left, Veronika gave each of us a hand-made card. On the front, she drew a house; inside, she wrote our names and drew a picture of a heart. Irene, a young woman in our group, brought a Polish Bible from her church in Missouri. A few nights earlier, each of us had signed it.
“This,” said Miroslaw, clutching the Bible, “will remind us of each of you.”
I couldn’t think of a more fitting goodbye.
Mark A. Waligore is the president of the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity/DeKalb. This is his first Global Village trip, and he’ll be writing about his experiences all week long.