Sulemain Zain, his wife Fatamah Abobaker and their children know what it’s like to be targeted because you are of the wrong family, clan or race. They know what it is like to endure separation and hardship to move their family to a safe place. Now, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area, Inc., and the City of Chattanooga’s Neighborhood Stabilization project, construction of a simple decent and affordable Habitat for Humanity home for the Abobaker/Zain family gets underway this week.
Thanks to God in several different languages roll off the tongues of Suleiman Zain, Fatmeh Abobaker and their children when they talk about the impending construction of their new home. “We have traveled many miles, suffered the loss of many and have felt the pangs of hunger, but now we celebrate our blessings,” Fatmeh says.
The Abobaker/Zain family escaped the ravages of tribal wars in Somalia where they saw men, women and children brutally tortured and murdered in clashes among diverse clans. Fatmeh says her husband left Somalia before the family because men were the first to be killed. Fatmeh felt compelled to stay in Somalia as long as her grandmother, who raised her and her twin sister, was alive. Fatmeh’s sister had fled the country before Suleiman because her husband had already been murdered. After her husband fled, Fatmeh was left alone to care for her four children, a baby on the way and her grandmother.
Fatmeh’s grandmother died a year or so after Suleiman’s departure, allowing Fatmeh to flee the country and join her husband. Fatmeh remembered the long journey where the family walked for miles and miles. She began to cry as she described her swollen legs and weary children, but was determined to reunite her family. Fatmeh believed her husband was going to Yeman; however there was no trace of him upon her arrival there. She looked for him with the help of the refugee service and other organizations. She went to camps and asked everyone who would listen about her husband. She failed at her attempts to find him until one day she learned that a group of people from her country had gone to Syria. Fatmeh and her children gathered their meager belongings and prepared to go to Syria.
Fatmeh felt confident she would find her husband in Syria, and knew for sure she would get help from her half brother who lived there. Fatmeh was able to find her brother, but unfortunately, he left Syria and went to Holland only three months after Fatmeh and her children arrived. Fatmeh was devastated, but was undeterred in her quest to find Suleiman. She praised the refugee officials who helped her and her family when her brother left for Holland. Fatmeh gleefully describes finding her husband after looking for him over a year. “We were all so happy!” she says.
Fatmeh says the family applied to come to America a little while after being reunited. They arrived in Chattanooga with the assistance of Bridge Refugee Services and members of the local Muslim community.
“We have a good life in this country,” says Suleiman. “My wife and I have good jobs.” Fatmeh works in the dietary department at Memorial Hospital and Suleiman works at Pilgrim’s Pride. “Our children are respectful, obedient and are getting a good education at East Ridge High School.” Eighteen year old Rahmah pipes in, “Our family thinks about the future and not the past.” The teen describes how she and her four other siblings, Fuad 16, Hawa 15, Mohammed 12 and Roqaya 11, joke about how rooms are going to be distributed in their new home. They all conclude that no matter how that are distributed, it will be just fine, remembering when the entire family slept in one room. However, Rahmah asserts she is sure she will have a room of her own with a confident smile. “I am the oldest,” she says. Fatmeh just throws her hands in the air and says, “I was sad before, but now I am happy. Thank you God!”
“Every Habitat homeowner is special,” says John Lamb, Director of Development for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga, “but it is extremely satisfying to work with people who have been through so much in their quest to raise their families, work, and live without the threat of genocide hanging over their heads. As American’s, we sometimes forget the day-to-day violence and oppression that are a part of so many people’ lives around the world.”
The Aabobaker/ Zain family home is one of seven to be built in Chattanooga, thanks to a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga, and the Neighborhood Stabilization program being administered by Chattanooga’s Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development, under Mayor Ron Littlefield. “We are pleased to be working with the City in this effort,” says Lamb, “but continue to look for additional individuals, groups, churches, and others to help us build for the more than 15 additional families who are waiting for construction of their homes to begin.”
At completion, the home will be sold to the family at zero percent interest. As the family repays their mortgage over the years, their payments will be used by Habitat to help other families have the opportunity to purchase simple, decent and affordable homes.