81-year-old puts her back into building houses
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.’’
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.