81-year-old puts her back into build­ing houses

Central Leader - - NEWS - By ANNA LOREN

Great-grand­mother Tu­akana Wichman reck­ons she’s found the se­cret to eter­nal youth: pick­ing up a ham­mer.

The 81-year-old is Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Greater Auck­land’s long­est-serv­ing vol­un­teer.

She’s been in­volved with the or­gan­i­sa­tion since 1991, when she helped to con­struct a home on Daw­son Rd in Otara.

She’s been work­ing at Habi­tat’s char­ity shop, ReStore, since it opened in 2001 and last year helped to build 10 houses for needy fam­i­lies in Bangladesh, where lo­cals lined the streets to wel­come the vol­un­teers to their town.

‘‘It re­ally touched my heart, see­ing the way they live and the way they wel­comed us. My tears came down,’’ she says.

‘‘I know I’m not get­ting any younger but my heart is young with try­ing to do things and help peo­ple.’’

To prove the fact, she did a 12,000 feet sky­dive for her most re­cent birth­day.

She’ll don her builder’s gloves again when she trav­els to Viet­nam in Au­gust where she’ll be among a group of 250 vol­un­teers pitch­ing in to build 25 houses for im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies in the Mekong Delta

Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Greater Auck­land is seek­ing more vol­un­teers to build homes in the re­gion, where many fam­i­lies live in un­safe and un­san­i­tary ac­com­mo­da­tion.

‘‘We don’t know what over­crowd­ing is over here. We talk about it and it’s a prob­lem but over there whole fam­i­lies are just liv­ing in one-bed­room houses,’’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor War­ren Jack says.

‘‘They’re just tin shacks. They’re very flimsy – you’d be lucky if they’re water­proof.’’

The huts gen­er­ally have only dirt floors, which means the res­i­dents are of­ten vic­tims of damp­ness and parisitic in­fec­tion.

Habi­tat vol­un­teers build ba­sic 30 to 40 square me­tre houses with con­crete floors and brick walls.

A re­cent study found an 85 per cent re­duc­tion in par­a­sitic in­fec­tion af­ter the con­crete floors were in­stalled, Mr Jack says.

Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity also works to se­cure land for the fam­i­lies, many of whom are squat­ters with no res­i­den­tial rights.

‘‘Fam­i­lies pur­chase their houses and they will not be able to get thrown out,’’ Mr Jack says.

Ms Wichman says last year’s build in Bangladesh was ‘‘ a great chal­lenge’’ and one that con­nected deeply with her own ex­pe­ri­ences.

The hous­ing con­di­tions re­minded her of her own child­hood grow­ing up in the Cook Is­lands, she says.

‘‘Back home in the ’40s, our place was like that, with pigs, goats and cows run­ning around.’’

And meet­ing the fu­ture owner of a home she helped build was ‘‘hugely hum­bling’’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘He didn’t speak very good English but ev­ery­body un­der­stood him when he said, ‘I pray that Je­sus looks af­ter you’,’’ she says.

‘‘You can’t help ev­ery­body but I re­ally be­lieve what we did and what Habi­tat does is re­ally amaz­ing.’’

Photo: ANNA LOREN

Ded­i­cated: Tu­akana Wichman’s let­ter­box is painted in Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity’s colours, green and blue.

Go to cen­tral­leader.co.nz and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see a vol­un­teer speak about Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity’s April build in Fiji.

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