It has been a long journey for Santo and Mary Majok Takfiny from Sudan to Egypt, and then to Chattanooga. Thanks to Rivermont Presbyterian Church, Mary and Santo’s dream of a new home for their family will start to come to life today as construction started on their new Habitat for Humanity home. This is the 15th home funded by Rivermont Presbyterian, and one of hundreds that church volunteers have helped build here through weekly service on the jobsite.
Mary met Santo Takfiny under frightening circumstances. They had both fled violence in the Sudan, losing family and friends. “When I was twenty-two,” explains Mary, “they bombed the city and my father was killed.” Disheveled and lost, it took 20 days on foot for her and her four children, Aleza, Cicilia, Samuel and Patros to reach Egypt.
Mary had no relations or contacts in Egypt, and found the area to be hostile; Sudanese people were not welcomed in Egyptian culture. Mary yearned to reunite with her family and return to her home, but did not know where they were, and it was not safe to return. Grateful to be alive, she resigned herself to make the most of God’s blessings. It was then she met Santo – soon the two were married.
“We spent the next five years in Egypt,” says Mary. They struggled in the country filled with refugees. Finally, their prayers were answered by an opportunity to start a new life in America. In March of 2005, Mary and her four children arrived in Chattanooga. Because of paperwork issues, Santo could not accompany them. Mary was pregnant and ill prepared to provide for her family alone.
Once again, Mary found herself in a predicament where she feared for the well-being of her children – their first home in America was in a housing project.
She was not prepared for her new environment. There was disrespect from neighbors, fights, drug selling and even shootings. “I didn’t know English,” explains Mary. “It was difficult to communicate; it led to several problems with some of the residents. We were very worried.” Mary missed her husband and felt she needed his protection, but realized she was the only person her children had in this country. Mary decided that her family’s plight in Sudan was much worse than anything she could experience or imagine in America, and set about to make a good life for all of her children, which now included Makur, born in June 2005.
Mary studied hard to learn English and get a job. Being loquacious and friendly she soon made friends. She soaked up all of the information she could and soon learned about the Housing Choice Voucher Program. She applied to participate in the program and was able to move her family to a better environment.
Mary never forgot the husband she left behind. She yearned for him to join his family and meet the son he had never seen. She worked with Bridge Refugee Services and faithfully followed their instructions until Santo arrived in October, 2006.
Santo, a very quiet and easy-going person, the opposite of his outgoing and talkative wife, eased into his new surroundings and found work. Shortly after his arrival Mary became pregnant with the couple’s youngest child, Marwell.
Santo met several people while working at American Plastics, but one stood out because of his broad smile and kind manner. The fact he was a fellow Sudanese made things even better. Santo and Baja Dalla became fast friends. It is through Baja (Habitat partner family for the 2008 Southside Community House) that Santo learned about Habitat for Humanity and the possibility of owning a home.
Mary and Santo freely admit life continues to be a struggle with five children, (Aleza, the oldest has moved away and started her on family), cultural differences, tough economic times, a language barrier and a blended family. “We try to make the most of the blessings we have every day; I thank God,” Mary says. “He has saved the lives of all my children, my husband and me and now he is going to bless us with a home of our own.”
“Rivermont Presbyterian Church has faithfully supported Habitat’s work here for many years,” says Pete Palmer, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga. “This is the 15th house funded by their congregation, not to mention all the homes that their volunteers have helped build through weekly service. We are truly grateful for their partnership in support of Mary and Santo and their children, and for their willingness to commit their time and resources to bless others!”